Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Sunday of Free Meals--Stepney's City Farm and St. Dunstan's Church

Sunday, July 31, 2016

     I had a dreadful night. Wracked by jetlag and possibly the caffeinated latte I had at tea-time yesterday, I was awake most of the night. When I did eventually fall asleep, it was in the early hours--and having set my alarm for 7. 30am so that I could leave for Mass at 8. 15, I didn't really get enough sleep at all.

Off for Mass to St. Etheldreda's Church in Holborn:
     I have a soft spot for St. Etheldreda's Church in Holborn for many reasons: it was my London 'parish' when I lived here; it is the oldest Catholic church in England (being the first one to revert to Roman Catholicism after the Protestant Reformation); it is bursting with historic detail (King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I possibly worshiped here); it is where my dear friend and former neighbor Barbara starts every Sunday. I had made plans to meet her at Mass followed by a swift breakfast at her flat next door to the one I had once occupied.
     I have yet to get to know bus timings in Bethnal Green where I now live. Banking on the bus getting me to the Tube station on time was not too wise. When it did roll in (after I'd waited about 20 minutes), I raced to the Tube, got one right away (fortunately!) and reached Chancery Lane Station from where I raced off to Ely Place to catch the 9.00 am Mass--I was about 2 minutes too late, so seated myself nondescriptly in the middle region. The congregation has certainly grown in the past 8 years and there are many families and babies to be seen. Good Old Fr. Tom Deidun still holds the fort, the same lector continues to read faithfully every Sunday (I believe she is called Alison) and the stained glass window still does what it was supposed to do for Medieval congregations--it inspires me to pray to every saint featured in its collage. After Mass, Barbara and I reunited (always a great joy!) and off we trekked to Holborn Tube station for one of her other Sunday morning rituals--picking up the Sunday Times (of which I got myself a copy as well--for among other things, it provides the weekly TV program!)

Bountiful Brekkie at 7HH:
     I met Tim, Barbara's other half at brekkie at "7HH" (High Holborn) where he provided us with crispy croissants, the most delicious bacon (to make a sandwich with or, as Barbara put it, to "nibble" on--I did the former), butter, super sweet cherries,  white peaches and coffee. It was fun, as always, to catch up with my friends and to leave with a small present from Tim: a spray can of moth repellent (short story, but not important). It is my hope that we will meet again (perhaps over a meal in my home soon).

Discovering the Number 8 Bus Route:
     I decided to take the Number 8 bus all the way back home to Bethnal Green but when I got nearer my vicinity, changed my mind to ride it all the way to the end of its route--at Bow Church--to enable me get my bearings. This allowed me to pass Victoria Park and the Canal whose tow path makes for a nice hiking route, spied the Acelor Mittal Slide Tower at the Olympics Park and finally got to Bow Church (closed but clearly very old and very atmospheric). My brainwave gave me a good sense of where the buses that ply through my new area will take me.
     Just as impulsively, I took the Number 25 to get back home--this plies along Mile End Road--and ten minutes later, I was at Stepney Green Tube station which is the other one that serves my home's location. Again, since I was carrying the diagram that Mine Host N gave me, I decided to explore Stepney--it was as good a time as any other and doing it before I got home seemed like a good idea.

Exploring Stepney Green--City Farm and St. Dunstan's Church:
     A few minutes later, I was at Stepney High Street attempting to find two places that N had drawn out: City Farm which reputedly has a nice cafe and what he called "Old Stepney Church". Well, City Farm turned out to be a real farm--I had expected a Farmer's Market! Imagine finding a fully functioning farm filled with pigs, goats, sheep, hens, rabbits, etc. right in the midst of the city of London! I am still in shock. The place is also filled with allotments--those plots of land that are tended by city folk who lack their own gardens and wish to try their hands as growing their own "veg". Well, well, well. I had the nicest stroll through the pens as I watched kids pet the animals, feed them hay and food pellets and take in the sight of so many lush vegetable gardens brimming over with tomatoes and peppers and raspberry and blackberry canes that turned out the sweetest fruit.
     Just when I was about to leave, I came upon a workshop/shed and made the sweet discovery that it was a day when three 'green' neighborhood organizations had clubbed together to provide visitors with lunch created from their organically grown produce. I was invited to wait for ten minutes as set-up continued. It wasn't long before the lovely buffet of salads was opened to the public and I found myself holding a plate flowing with a corn, beans and red pepper salad, a green salad made with red lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette, a quinoa salad with oranges, chick peas and mango, a rice salad with boiled potatoes and lots of herbs for taste and flavor, a noodle salad with carrots and cukes. There were salted cashew nuts, lovely home-baked bread and mushroom pate and for dessert, a fruit salad with apples, grapes, peaches and blackberries. Seriously, I could not have eaten a more healthy or unexpectedly delicious lunch! We were all then invited to help ourselves to the surplus produce grown on the allotments and as I chose garlic, ginger, avocados, Bibb lettuce, a seed-studded loaf of bread and an olive loaf, I thought just how lucky I was to be fed lunch for free and be presented all these natural goodies!
     The afternoon continued to present an embarrassment of riches--for right across the street was "Old Stepney Church" and since the door was wide open, I simply had to make a visit. Imagine my delight at finding out that it was the Church of St. Dunstan and All Saints which has stood at this site since 952 AD! It certainly wears its age on its sleeve. It is one of the churches that is referred to in the famous "Oranges and Lemons" poem about London's old churches: "When will that be? say the Bells of Stepney."
     As I entered the church, a bunch of lovely old church ladies came to greet me and inform me that it was the afternoon of the Poppy Picnic--a fund raiser for descendants of British veterans of the Great War. Children had been told to bring their stuffed toys to church--these would be 'parachuted' down from the tower of the church to their waiting arms below. How charming a tradition is this? And as part of the picnic, the ladies had set out a real genuine Afternoon Tea--with every manner of cake and scones, split and spread with strawberry jam and a bowl of real clotted cream placed at the side. There was also a bowl of strawberries for those who preferred just strawberries and cream. I was invited to join in and as I made my donation, I moved to the front of the church for a prayerful visit.
     Simply unable to resist the treats of the tea-time table, I helped myself to a slice of Victoria sponge and Chocolate cake and half a scone. As there was no lemon in sight, I opted for a coffee instead of the more traditional tea. As no one can do an Afternoon Tea like church ladies, the whole experience was homely, authentic and charming and took me back to the era of the TV series, Home Fires. So, as I left the church, it occurred to me that three meals of the day had been made available to me through the generosity of friends and London's community events: breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. As for dinner? Well, wouldn't you just know it? I had an invitation to supper for later that day.       
      Laden with my Sunday Times and the bulging bag of fresh produce, I jumped into a bus that dropped me right outside my house--and ten minutes later, I was putting away my goodies and making my way upstairs for a nap. For lack of sleep was swiftly catching up with me and I needed to unwind after my lovely exploration of one portion of the East End of London. An hour later, having had some shut eye, I woke up, had a shower and headed off to my next appointment.

Supper with Fond Friends:
     The District Line transported me to Sloan Square in Chelsea in about 20 minutes and by the time I was ringing the bell to Grosvenor Court where my friends Michael and Cynthia live with their son Aidan, I could barely contain my excitement at seeing them again. We spent the next couple of hours together catching up on so many things that have happened in our respective families and our lives. Cynthia provided one of her delicious meals after Michael placed a G and T in my hand. Over her superb roast lamb, mashed potatoes with gravy and mixed steamed veg (brocolli, squash and beans), with fresh berries, custard and ice-cream for pudding, the evening just rolled smoothly along. I picked up my UK phone (which Cynthia had been holding and using occasionally to keep my number alive) and then it was time to bid them goodbye before it turned too dark. Being that it is summer, there is light until about 9.00 pm, but until I get the lie of the land, they do not want me out too late--and quite sensibly too!
     It was at 9.45 pm that I reached my door. There were still a lot of folks on the road (much to my relief!) and lots of cars along the street too. I videochatted with Llew, went in for a shower and sat down to blog.
     It was an eventful day and, unbelievably, one on which I was fed every single meal (and quite deliciously too!) by generous Londoners! As this is the first time such a thing has happened to me, I do not believe that I will ever experience such a phenomenon again!
     With the weekend devoted to easing into my new life and discovering my new neighborhood, I am ready to plunge into some work tomorrow. Bring on the working week...
     Until tomorrow, cheerio!    


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