Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Service at the Church of St. Bartholomew the Less

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On a day that led to a crick in my neck from the hours I spent at my laptop, I only set out in the morning to get to Church spending the rest of the day catching up with my blog and French travelogue. A breakfast of skimmed milk and Waitrose cereal with berries got me started and from then on, I was basically handcuffed to my computer.

Checking John Betjeman's City of London Churches, I found out that the Church of St. Bartholomew the Less had a service at 11 am and that was the one I decided to attend. I have visited this church before on one of my self-guided walks, so it was its proximity to home that made my decision for me--I did not want to venture far away on this rather busy day nor did I have a bus pass that would allow me to take a long ride somewhere.

At 10. 45, I left my flat and walked briskly on what turned out to be a rather warm morning towards the Church. I arrived just as service was about to begin and found myself in a rather small but very sweet church which had just 10 people in its congregation. The vicar, one Ben, was waiting at the front to start conducting the service with the assistance of a female priest. I was warmly welcomed by a very attractive lady (whom I later learned was called Rosemarie) who pressed a service sheet and hymnal into my hand.

Every church service is different but this was most unusual in that the congregation remains seated throughout. Being new, I took my cues from those around me. The interior had been newly painted and the gilded decoration on the ceiling seemed spanking new. This contrasted quite vividly with the old monuments on the wall.

The Church of St. Bartholomew the Less is located in the grounds of the great Hospital of St. Bartholomew that surrounds it and serves as its parish. Was it because it was a holiday weekend that so few people had made it to church? Or is this customary, I wondered, as service began with a hymn. The organ at the side of the church was played at hymn time by a lady who seemed to have trouble reading the music. Few people sang and responses were barely audible. Unlike the rather grand churches I have been visiting for the past several months, this one seemed very subdued indeed.

After Communion, we were invited to coffee at the back of the church. I had a chance to chat with the Vicar. People have always been very welcoming at theses churches and I am repeatedly struck by their warmth. I understand now why the best way to make friends when you are a stranger in a community in England is to make a beeline for the local church--someone or the other will befriend you there and before you know it, you will have worked your way into the community.

At coffee, I met a number of rather interesting people such as the young man who called himself Nicholas and then proceeded to tell me that he was a fellow academic who taught English as a Foreign Language to foreign Law students at Queen Mary College of the University of London. He also turned out to be a history buff and a great lover of art and next thing I knew he was recommending all sort of places that I could go and see--such as the Thames Barrier (which I had been planning to visit) and the Main Hall of the adjoining hospital building which has a large painted roof by William Hogarth. One of my self-guided walks will be taking me to Chiswick where Hogarth's House is on the route; but I figured it would be best to start off by taking a look at this painted roof.

It turns out that Hogarth once used to live in the neighborhood and worshiped at this church. He donated his work in the Main Hall, not charging a penny for his pains. I later found out that though the Hall is not open to the public, a hospital volunteer such as Rosemarie could get me in with her badge. We exchanged telephone numbers and have made tentative plans to visit it together on Wednesday--an outing to which I am very much looking forward.

Nicholas' Dad, who was also present, is also a Tube buff and we spent a while talking about the Hogarth collection in the John Soanes Museum--his series entitled The Rake's Progress is quite the most interesting collection in that fascinating space. Nicholas told me the story about Soanes' sons who made fun of him through an anonymous article they wrote in a contemporary newspaper. When Soanes found out that it was his sons who had written so derogatorily about him, he disowned them, passing on his entire collection of architectural fragments to the City of London instead of disbursing his wealth among his sons. Good job he did that--this museum is one of the most amazing I have ever seen (and what's more, you get double value for money as you actually walk through the rooms of Soanes' own home and get to see how the moneyed gentry lived in the Victorian Age--which, for me, at least is a matter of undying interest). Soanes, by the way, was the architect of the Bank of England whose museum has also been recommended to me by a reader of this blog--and which I hope to get to really soon.

Of course, all this conversation occured over coffee and a chocolate biscuit--how very civilized! Before I left, another member of the congregation who happened to be from New Zealand, suggested that I visit the Church of St. Cuthbert's in the Barbican. This was the church in which John Milton, the poet, was married. I promised to look it up on the internet. I have also passed by it on the Jubilee Walk and I was curious about it--except that it was closed and I could not peek into it at the time. I know where I shall be going next Sunday for church service! What a great time I am having seeing these churches and talking to the local parishioners.

Back home, I returned to my PC and worked steadily all day at my writing. It was about 9 pm when I had everything I wanted to remember about my travels in France and my impressions of the Chelsea Flower Show uploaded on to my blog. Time for a relaxing shower, a bit of dinner, some TV (I really enjoyed a show called Coast on the Blighty channel which took us to the east coast of Yorkshire to such beach resorts as Scarborough and Whitby--places which I have not visited but have heard James Herriot rave about in the book he wrote about the attractions of Yorkshire). It was great to learn about Whitby Jet--a kind of shale that is harvested from the hidden caves and grottoes by the water and which has been made into jewelry since the age of Victoria when she took to wearing it after the death of her beloved Albert. This led to a huge demand for the jewelry--who said it was Diana who set trends first? It seems the avid public has always allowed its fashion tastes to be dictated by royalty!

It was after midnight when I finally fell asleep with that annoying crick in my neck--a result, I am told, of stress!

I am sorry that this will be my very last week in this flat. I have adored my time here in Holborn and every second of this coming week will be precious to me as I have a heightened consciousness of the fact that I will probably never again have this incredible experience of having a London flat all to myself right in the very heart of the city. I am now determined to spend the coming week living completely in the moment savoring every second so that I can call them all to mind when I am far away and whenever I wish to think happy thoughts.

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