Making sense (I)

It’s like 

going back to your old student flat

Years after you lived there 

How it is clearly the same location

And that old iron stain is still on the carpet

(They did lie about replacing that)

But it’s soul is gone

The gig posters ripped down

And your carefully curated bottle collection nowhere to be seen.

It’s not home anymore

It’s just a dead body

And you are the ghost seeing it from above.

Of course it’s unsettling

Weird; even upsetting

To see it like that.

You were born there

Your life and personality took shape here

The name became flesh and made its dwelling place among … them. Us.

This is my family home. No – it was where my family lived, briefly, but home has moved on now, bought houses in the suburbs and set up camp and laid down longer roots elsewhere. Their spirit has departed, but it lives on quite legitimately in my memories.

And perhaps sometimes theirs too. 

Isaiah writes about this. Being in exile but coming home to a new place. It’s a common prophetic refrain. See your children coming riding on the shoulders of strangers. Enlarge the place of your tent, that pastor in Oxford once said. Sing O single woman. You will be given a new family. As surely as Abraham; as many as there are stars in the sky… 

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LONELINESS OF A SEMI FREQUENT FLYER

The rain stopped coming round 7 and the heavens were
Gold as a gong and robin’s egg blue
With a memory of you

This Sunday
I am on a higher plane
Haloing in a holding pattern
Circling the turbines on the
molten golden estuary.
And whilst we hang there, I am thinking
highly
of you.

The cloud strata part like a multi-storey car park
As we slide past the snaking Thames
And silted tidal triangles out to sea

Oh like a Juggernaut you.

Far down there in the rippling clear
A sailing ship sits with rigging erect
Attentive to life’s arrival as I was to you
On that long ago January evening.
One of those intuitive blooms
Where I hoped then I knew we would meet
Yet I determined to hold you lightly
When I knew we’d only have to let go.

Fields of houses and tidy crescents
Surround primary colour docklands
And the sun shines bright on brick
Lengthening shadows form a tower’s train
And the Tarmac shimmers after rain.

And every second thought since
Always and forever you

 

Sunday in South London

With a jolly head nod to Jem Bloomfield of quiteirregular who wrote the piece inspiring this reply.

I wake, as ever, to my trusty clock radio alarm – weekdays set to 6 Music but today and every weekend Radio 4 – giving me gentle warning to start stirring and thinking about grabbing the shower before my housemate steals in in his own personal dash to be not TOO late for church.

If I’m awake early, it’s the Sunday Service and a well-scripted reader of the intercessory prayers, but normally it’s Paddy O’Connell being drily comic but still fairly formal in a way only Radio 4 presenters can be – hey guys, we’re still wearing our suit jacket in the studio but today we’ve unbuttoned the top button of our shirts. Crazy, right.

There is sunlight seeping in from under my curtains as I try and convince my eyes to open and calculate how long I can doze for. Housemate is now in the shower so I trudge downstairs and boil the kettle for a cafetière-full of the good stuff. If I’ve managed to buy bread on Saturday, on Sunday I treat myself to scrambled egg in a crusty bread roll and munch it while I look out at the garden. By this time Paddy’s onto being sassy about the papers with some dame or other so I tune out and enjoy the little patch of nature we get to control in the South London suburbs. A squirrel is running over our fence onto the shed and there is someone smoking their morning fag on the little concrete balcony on the first floor flats beyond. I remember I need to water my plants and throw some water at the base of some very thin tomato plants which I’m nonetheless proud to have grown from seed. I rub my fingers against the stems and enjoy the delicious green smell of them.

The accordion theme tune of the Archers is a sign I need to get going so I decide what kind of coat the weather warrants (or if I can chance a hoodie) and make sure I’ve got my keys and my neckline won’t cause issues if I bend down to retrieve my service sheet because I’ve dropped it again during a hymn.

I try and find a few tins and things for the food bank box that sits at the back of church. I fought my previous church’s utterly uninterested leadership to make sure they kept theirs in place in the lobby and to find volunteers to deliver it, and ever since I’ve been very aware that I treat the physical act of donating as a weekly (or at least twice monthly) act of worship in itself. My housemate (now running out the door to play keyboard or man the projector at his church, which starts fifteen minutes before mine) volunteers at the Friday morning session of our local Trussell Trust franchise. I pass it when I walk to the tube station. He says it isn’t that busy compared to other branches nearby but it still isn’t empty and that’s far from ideal. So I pop the toothbrush, tin of sardines and carton of UHT milk into my bag and head out.

I pass a few people as I walk past a primary school and blocks of flats, some probably off to other churches. (London is still pretty religious, as you’ll see when you brave Brixton station and hear the regular preacher telling you to repent, the smart JW ladies stood politely beside their Portuguese leaflets and the gaggles of schoolgirls wearing hijabs, among others.) When I turn into the meandering, more upmarket side road towards church, it’s only birds and a family off to the common with their son on a scooter. I admire the gardens and the detached well-kempt houses, and stop at intervals to smell overhanging roses or honeysuckle.

Finally I cross the smart mini shopping street opposite the yuppie bakery and the Co-op whose reduced section I’ll be rummaging in later (now a regular part of my weekly pilgrimage to this part of town). I am, as ever, roughly five minutes late but it’s probably fine if I speed up and anyway they start at four minutes past really. Another parishioner is arriving too and we give each other sheepish smiles as we tiptoe up to the double glass doors into the church building, just as the vicar is beaming out at us in her magnificent purple/green/red (adjust for liturgical season) cope, arms outstretched aloft and welcoming us to the Eucharist. She winks at me down the aisle as I take my red hymnbook, blue service booklet and a notice sheet from the lady welcomer and slide onto one of the side rows which has got the wooden shelf over  the radiator. Sometimes I sit with my friends, one of the other twenties-thirties gang who, like me, have all appeared in the last year or so (according to our beloved CurateFace, as she is known to her friends). Often I like sitting on my own with my thoughts and prayers, but within Peace-ing distance of another soul who I can say hello to and attempt to remember their name. I always give any nearby baby a wave and a smile – one habit of many I have picked up from my father.

Off in the wings I see a small group of official processing folk, whose roles I don’t fully understand but there’s one with a cross on a stick (the crozier?), one gently dangling a steaming thurible full of incense (the thurifer – I know that one) and a couple of child acolytes, all in white robes. They wait for the organist, leaning precariously out of the organ loft to see, to strike up, before they set off.

The sun beams jauntily down through the high windows as the incense lazily circles upwards and we stand up to greet the Gospel. Members of the robed party move to the centre of the aisle, wave the porous smoking metal ball in various directions, and we turn to face CurateFace who crosses herself, chest, shoulders and lips as she reads clearly from the story according to Matthew. I think about how I like this part as it literally puts the Gospel in the centre of the service. Eat your heart out, ‘Bible-based’ low church evangelical snobbery.

Later we all exchange the polite English handshake of liturgical peacemaking, except for us young’ins who hug each other and say ‘alright?’, and the Vicar and Curate who make sure everyone gets a serious bear hug. The Vicar reaches the back and just remembers to announce the next hymn in time but forgets to turn her microphone back on.

After the children have done their bit (recapping what sounds like a full Biology lesson or showing improbable crafts involving lolly sticks) and we’ve been blessed and processed out at, I drop off my donations and join the gang for coffee or picking up leaflets. There’s a Lent course happening, a book group meeting, a temporary winter homeless shelter to volunteer to cook for and an appeal for bikes or furniture for Syrian refugees who we’re helping to settle into the borough, through a great local community group that the church is part of. Over twenty families have arrived in our borough in the last few years. Today there are two microwaves at a bench at the back of church, presumably to be delivered to the newest families.

I queue for a coffee and catch up on the week’s news from my friends (tiring job hunting, redundancies, but also gigs, art galleries, books) whilst I also try in my shy way to chat to at least one new person – even if it’s someone I’ve seen every week but not formally met. I don’t always succeed before they slope off but I hate the thought of people not being welcomed, and in church of all places.

For a third week running I decide I don’t really need the old guide to New Testament Greek from the bookstall, and check whether that copy of the God Delusion is still there from the Christmas Fayre in late November. It is.

And suddenly we’re done, kids are tugging at ankles and we head out into the midday sun and see what providence and sell-by dates have brought us at the Co-op. Quiche and cherries for lunch it is then.

Mirrors, Signal, Manoeuvre

Creeping up to the give way line

Sudden personal clarity.

Everything’s a crossroads now

This job or that, or back to the other.

At some certain point you choose.

 

I don’t like being so binary.

Your eyes are blue in this light but still green

and if they asked me I couldn’t swear either way

But I do know how they watch me.

 

So what do I do at this point?

Do I take this opening, this exit or pass it up?

And will there be another chance?

I don’t know.

I drive on instinct;

It feels right so I pursue it.

Well, what use is it agonising

when you have to make the choice?

This seems unlike me

Well, not the intuition

But the conviction to use it

and not fear being thought subjective.

Everything is, anyway. There’s no neutral

and we all just justify what we want.

So why not you.

Why not.

 

Beatitudes anew

Lucky souls, the people dependent on others for survival; they are the real rich.

Lucky souls, the people aware of the value of what they have lost; they truly cherish it.

Lucky souls, the restrained, the non-hotheaded, the gentle with power; theirs is true control.

Lucky, lucky souls, desperate for lives to change and be made right; to them satisfaction.

Happiness follows mercy; you get what you give out.

Clean hearts see God.

 

 

 

Kings Cross 2017

“The man at the back of the queue was sent

to feel the smack of firm government”

– Pet Shop Boys ‘Kings Cross’ (1987)

You are squeezing this country

for every penny it has

whilst paying yourselves pounds.

When walking round this town

every corner now has a man

begging crouched on the ground.

How can this be

the strength and stability

that you promised?

*

When Neil wrote Kings Cross

HIV was the killer  –

though Maggie had excluded.

But now her party kills;

A government attacking its own people’s immune system

to ‘cure’ its monetary ills.

How can this political

dissociative self-sabotage

not be treason?

*

For thirty years on now

Austerity is raping folk

and starving hospitals, schools and lives.

Children leave the house hungry

even when their parents are working

and fraud is suspected from disability.

Oh, what price is dignity

when cheap, flammable housing

is good enough for the poor?

*

Young Christians in London

Go for cosy social brunches

and do everything Instagrammably.

Meanwhile ‘in Europe’

Refugees die on beaches

desperate to reach a safer land.

Overwhelmed, I’m wondering

Where is our Jesus in this?

On that beach with them.