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…

When Church History & TfL geekery collide

Last week (I am horrendously behind in blogging at the moment, forgive me) I achieved something of a 2014 First – if I was still keeping lists of such things. For the very first time, I had my own byline in the Church Times.

In all the ways thou goest

It had been on the list of ‘hypothetical things to achieve at some point’, and was partly achieved last summer when I was part of the paper’s Greenbelt reporting team. But this was an actual commission, that came about through a random combination of Twitter and a college seminar while in France last autumn.

The article, ‘In all the ways thou goest’, was on the subject of prayer while travelling, in the context of the growth of apps and websites that facilitate praying on the move. It derived some inspiration from friends who regularly pray on their commute, tweeting invitations to share requests with the hashtag #trainprayer.

What actually prompted the commission from the Church Times was a tweet of mine from way back in January, when I’d just finished writing up a hypothetical retreat for London Diocese, based around the concept of retreating on the tube. I’d risen to a challenge from one of my tutors who had speculated as to whether it would even be possible to retreat while on the tube. Surely it’s too busy and too stressful to be a place to meet with God?

For a start, I knew that people did use it for just that purpose day in, day out. Back in my commuting days, I did and saw others clutching Bibles or similar on our morning journey. I also knew that the tube has a lot of religious connections, in terms of station names and the history behind them. Finally, I figured you could use the context as a means of shaping who, what and where you prayed for.

You see most of that in the article, but as I needed to make it whole-of-UK friendly, the tube specific factoids were left out – so I thought I’d share them here instead. That way, next time you feel inclined to pray on the tube, you may want to pray into the history of some of the places on the maps above your head. See, Church History and TfL knowledge comes in handy all over the place!!

[Incidentally, I'm indebted to Morven for going through my copy of What's in a Name and marking every station that has a religious connection - not the funnest Sunday afternoon activity on a weekend in London, but she learnt lots too!]

Blackfriars – name taken from the colour of the habits worn by the Dominican Friars at a monastery on the site from the 13th Century to 1538 when it was abolished by Henry VIII.

Boston Manor – the ‘Manor’ originally belonged to the convent of St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

Bow Church – named after St Mary Bow Church, which has been a place of worship since the 14th Century.

Camden Town – this area of London was originally a manor belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Canon’s Park – six acres of land were granted to the Prior of the St Augustinian canons of St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield in 1331 & were recorded as ‘Canons’ during the 16th century.

Grange Hill – the Grange was originally one of the manors that belonged to Tilty Priory, until the dissolution of the monasteries.

Highbury & Islington – during the 13th Century, the Priory of St John of Jerusalem had a manor here, which was destroyed in 1381.

Highgate – at the ‘high gate’, tolls were collected from travellers wishing to use the Bishop of London’s road across Hornsey Park to Finchley.

Hornchurch – ancient records (1222) refer to a ‘horned church’ or monastery.

Hyde Park Corner – from 1066-1536, Hyde Park belonged to Westminster Abbey

King’s Cross St Pancras – St Pancras is named for Old St Pancras church. [Which I finally visited last week and is fascinating. It definitely deserves its title of 'old'!]

Liverpool Street – a priory stood here from 1246-1676.

Mansion House – the station was built on what had been the site of Holy Trinity the Less.

Parson’s Green – named after the area surrounding Fulham’s parsonage.

Plaistow – is derived from the Old English for ‘playing place’ and was where mystery plays were staged.

Preston Road – derived from the Old English for ‘priest’ and ‘farm’. A priest is mentioned as owning land in the area in the Domesday Book.

Ruislip Manor – the area once held a priory dependent upon the Norman Abbey of Bec.

St Paul’s – named after the cathedral, which was first built in the 7th Century.

Upminster – means ‘the church on high land’.

Walthamstow Central – derived from the Old English for ‘welcome’ and ‘holy place’.

Whitechapel – named after the white stone chapel of St Mary Matfelon, which was first built in 1329.

Tube Angel

You see, sometimes, having a geeky interest in the tube comes in very useful!

Farewell St George’s

Three years ago, I paid a few visits to a central London parish, with a view to potentially working there while training for ordination. On my first trip, I was shown round the streets of the parish where local celebrities’ homes were pointed out; favourite eateries highlighted; and several parishioners greeted. One service and a persuasive pizza later, and I committed. For the next three years, my home would be the parish of St George’s Holborn – first on the north-eastern most tip of the parish, on the corner of King’s Cross Road, then latterly, on the fabulous Lambs Conduit Street.

Time has flown! I arrived, a fairly fresh-faced ordinand, having only preached one ‘proper’ sermon and never having led a service. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d let myself in for – this was going to be my first shot at the adventure of church ministry. I leave, having preached more sermons than I can count on my fingers; a whole host of services; assisted with baptisms and communion; got to know an amazing bunch of students; and found a host of friends – some of whom are now strewn across the globe in a very pleasing, international adventure kind of a way!

St George's 2011-14Three years at St George’s and lots of friendly faces. Top right is my very first staff meeting, next to my face hovering over the amazing cake provided for my final staff meeting. So many memories! 

There are so many highlights that it would be impossible (or rather, very tedious) to list them all here!
- The undoubtedly life-long friends I’ve made over the 3 years.
- The two trips to Focus. I may loathe camping, but it’s made so much better by hanging out with lovely people!
- The babies that have been born and who I’ve watch grow up, a bit.
- Countless office shenanigans.
- Getting to know the local school and becoming one pupil’s favourite governor.
- Having an incumbent who understood the demands of academic work, and ensured that I had the space to do my best. (Which paid off!)

And then there were the students – which is a whole category of highlights of their own!

St G's students 2011-14Students at St George’s, 2011-14. (My final Sunday is bottom right. Sad faces.)

I know that it’s a fact of church ministry that every so often, you get the privilege of being alongside a very special group of people. I saw it when I was growing up in my parents’ churches, and I’ve seen it with friends. At St George’s, I was lucky enough to hit gold – right at the start of the first year.

The students that made up the 2011-12 student group created something special together. When new people arrived, they welcomed them heartily. When members graduated and moved to the other side of the world, they were involved in gatherings via Skype and Whatsapp conversations of epic proportions. This summer, most of them will reunite in Singapore & Malaysia – they’ve created a set of very special friendships.

We have had both special and ridiculous times together. There were the literal brownie points during Bible studies (thank you Sainsbury’s for your handy boxes of brownie bites); a willingness to dress up, even in front of the whole church; stupid games; excellent food; the first baptism I’ve ever assisted with… Oh, and the fact that I will never again be able to say grace in a restaurant without remembering the many, many times I’ve eaten out with these guys and they’ve made grace be as obvious and as long as possible in order to embarrass me as much as possible. Long rambling prayers, while holding hands, timed to begin just as a waiter is approaching. Classic.

St George’s, you will always be remembered fondly! Thank you for an excellent three years.

[And as for what's next, you'll simply have to watch this space & wait and see...]

Friday Fun with Secrets

Straight in with the fun today, no messing…

Previously, Friday Fun has featured episodes in a series created by Londonist, sharing the secrets of each London underground line. This week, the series concluded with the Metropolitan Line (and a special on the Waterloo & City – appropriate as I travelled on it for the first time in years on Wednesday!). Honestly, these videos are GENIUS and will provide you with all sorts of tube knowledge that will impress/annoy those you travel with for years to come.

Even if you watched some of them before, they bear re-watching – you’ll always discover something you missed. I now have a list of things I need to look out for on my various travels…

Moving on to a different form of transportation. It’s now 8 days since I favourited a tweet including this video on Twitter (bad me for not Friday Funning last week) and I know it’s been widely shared. However, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone I know share it on Facebook, so perhaps this will be a new one on you. If not, who cares?! It’s brilliant. This is what one man did to kill time while having to overnight at Las Vegas airport, equipped only with an iPhone, a roll of tape and a trolley case – plus a love of Celine Dion:

I love airports and I have a soft-spot for Celine – in fact, this version of All By Myself is the first one I heard, thanks to a teenage collection of her albums. Don’t judge me. It was the 90′s and I love a good power ballad.

On the subject of air travel, I am seriously in need of a long-haul adventure sometime soon – complete with all the novelties and deprivations of flying (limitless films versus limited leg room). I can’t decide if I feel better about flying, or worse, having read this great article on flying in a bygone age – complete with a large slideshow of photos. Definitely worth a perusal.

Sleeping In FlightCan you imagine the luxury??

Finally, a return to one of my favourite Friday Fun topics: periods. It’s been a while (largely because comedy on the subject is rather niche) but this is excellent. Brought to you by the same company who created last year’s Camp Gyno video, what if you were thrown a ‘First Moon’ party because your mother knew you were lying about having started?!

So. Much. Joy.
“Do you sell vagina cakes?”
“Do you know how hard it is to find a uterus piñata?”
“You’re missing the vagician!”
“Periods don’t have glitter in them!”

And with that, I’ll let you enjoy your Friday and all that the weekend throws at you!

Adventuring underground at Aldwych

It’s not often that I set an alarm to remind me to book tickets as soon as they go on sale, but when I heard (via Ian Visits) that Aldwych Tours were taking place this summer, it was an opportunity not to be missed. I confess, I booked the tickets during a Monday morning theology lecture, back in February.

Strand StationStrand Station – renamed Aldwych just 8 years after it opened – on the Strand.

Aldwych station is a special place. Closed since 1994, it’s one of the most visible and accessible of all of London’s (many) disused tube stations, largely thanks to it being on a branch line from Holborn that went nowhere else – meaning that trains don’t use it any more. The London Transport Museum runs tours a couple of times a year (as in blocks of tours, there were 3 weeks in this block), but booking is essential. Tickets went fast. Having previously hunted for abandoned stations above ground, I was finally going to explore one underground!

Last Thursday, with fellow geek Jenni in tow, we finally got inside and my goodness, it was worth the wait and the ticket price! [£25 for an adult, which will also give you 50% off entry at the LT museum, which then lasts a year - great deal.] Tours are led by volunteers, i.e. people who know a lot of information about the tube, just for fun. (Suddenly, I can see an activity for my retirement…) And our guides were great, very informative, willing to answer questions and obviously very passionate about their role.

There is SO much to say about the tour, but I don’t really want to spoil too much of it, because you really ought to go yourselves. Therefore, what follows are simply highlights…

1) Things are not always what they seem:

Fake PosterThe poster on the right is a classic LT poster, but this isn’t as old as it might look – it’s a replica from this century. 

Bakerloo Line SignThe Bakerloo Line has never passed through Aldwych Station (although the reason behind its renaming was owing to confusion to the nearby Strand station that eventually formed part of Charing Cross, which is on the Bakerloo Line). This is a left-over from one of Aldwych’s frequent film roles, this time for Mr Selfridge. 

2) The station was never particularly useful, to the extent that its second platform was never completely finished, nor were passageways between the two. Trains only ran between Holborn and Aldwych (not onwards), meaning that the line had very limited use. Apparently as a train was leaving Holborn, a bell would be rung alerting the lift manager at Aldwych to begin the journey down to platform level to pick up the tiny number of passengers that would be alighting.

Platform 2

The second platform instead found a use as a safe place to store national treasures during WW2 (including the Elgin Marbles), with the rest of the station used as an air raid shelter. Today, the platform has become an ideal place to test new tile patterns or materials used in tube infrastructure.

Piccadilly Line tile trialThe Piccadilly Line’s tiles in trial form.

3) It’s the little things that make a difference. Like an original 1907 sink & tap in the ladies’ toilets [a tube station with toilets!], and the iron work on the lift numbers.

1907 taps & sink

Lift 2

4)  Ultimately, it’s pretty cool to find yourself somewhere not everyone’s going to get to go!

Aldwych Platform 1Looking down platform 1.

Station Closed

Happy Geeks Happy geeks!

Oh, and, at the end of the tour you get handed a booklet chronicling the history of the station – just so you can check up on any facts you might have misheard.

More photos can be found on Flickr.

Friday Fun with poetry & singing

As is traditional for Friday Fun, there is some TfL geekiness, but there is an entire blogpost of geekiness imminent, so I’ll keep it to a minimum today, with just one piece of fun.

I am a big fan of tube etiquette posters – largely because I am also a big fan of keeping tube etiquette. However, the recent series of posters using rhyming couplets to instruct us to give up seats; not eat smelly food; and let others off the train first has been derided by some. One such person decided to bring some quality poetry into the etiquette messages, re-writing them in the style of Blake, Byron, Shakespeare etc…

Blake Tube Etiquette

Kipling, Byron, Barrett-Browning

Not, strictly speaking, TfL fun, but both London and Transport related, is Jake Foreman’s third instalment of Unfinished London.  The first two are well worth checking out if you haven’t already (the unfinished Northern Line plans & the inner London orbital) and this one does not disappoint. This time, the subject is London’s airports:

Moving on. Still riding high on the joy of seeing Les Mis in the flesh last week, I very much enjoyed this rendition of One Day More – with lyrics translated through layers of Google Translate. It’s excellent, partly because the singers are, and partly because it’s just ridiculous. Quality intellectual musical fun:

Next, am I alone in feeling something of a Harry Potter absence at this time of year? For years, early summer involved heady anticipation of a new book or film – until 2011, when the final movie arrived. If you share my wistfulness, and don’t have the time/inclination to read all 7 books or watch all 8 films, then you can relive the joy through 5 minutes of how Harry Potter should have ended:

And, as I said at the start, keep watch for further TfL fun in the next couple of days…