Saturday saw me at Billericay Town FC for their home match against Basingstoke Town FC (two “BTFC’s” for the price of one? Bargain!) which meant a chance to catch up with fellow London and music enthusiast, Dave Cristy, or DC, as he is known. I’d not seen him since Basingstoke played Brentford last November, and DC, as is his way, was able to recall the date and result without missing a beat. It was really good to see him and fill him in on everything that has been going on in my hula-hoop since then, which took some time!
The game ended 1-3, but to me it was a side issue – it was more about catching up with a friend than the result. I had a fairly busy and important day planned for Sunday, so no alcohol was consumed post-match; yes, it IS actually possible to cover a game and stick to tea!
I was up quite early (for some) on Sunday at 7am. I’d recently obtained an album called “Original Musiquarium” by Stevie Wonder (1982) following fellow presenter Louis Barfe playing one track from it on a recent programme. I’d not yet listened to it, but woke up on Sunday with the tune in question “Do I Do” stuck in my head, or as is more commonly known, an “earworm”. The only known cure is to listen to the earworm in question until it goes away. Three plays later it is still lodged firmly within, and at 10:31 in length, this is a worm of Olympic proportions. So, I decide to listen to the whole album. Okay, the scene: 7:30 am, Sunday morning, Stevie Wonder being belted out at a fairly boisterous level, with me adding vocal support where appropriate and maybe, just maybe doing the odd jig, as one might when one is on one’s tod! Having seemingly shifted the worm, I moved onto Al Jarreau, with much the same input from me whilst I got the kit together.
It will surprise some that I could listen to Stevie Wonder for so long (a 2-cd album) and to be honest, I surprised myself – hitherto I could hardly be described as one of his fans, but Musiquarium is brilliant and if you’ve not listened to it, do consider giving it a go. So, what was the agenda for the day? There was the Pearly Kings & Queens Harvest celebrations at the Guildhall from 1pm and then it would be off to Chinatown for the end of the Chinese mid-autumn celebrations in the evening. I was being joined for the day by the same person I’d ventured South of the River (did I REALLY do that???) with on Wednesday.
We met up at Liverpool Street a little after 12 and decided to have a walk over to the Guildhall, but not on the main road – there are dozens, if not hundreds of little passages and streets that make up the area, some going back centuries and as Alex is interested in architecture it seemed like a good way to indulge our interests whilst heading to our first port of call. Now, as regulars will have gleaned, I am a big fan of EC4, which is effectively St. Paul’s and westward – but we were in EC2 and I am nowhere near as familiar with this part of the City, so it was a joy to go exploring.
Before much longer we were at Guildhall. An arena had been set up for displays of maypole and morris dancing as well as somewhere for the various marching bands to perform.
The agenda was an arena event from 1-3pm, then a parade to the nearby St. Mary-le-Bow church for the harvest festival.
We’d first discussed coming to this event on Friday and Alex had done some research into the Pearly Kings and their origins. At this point I’ll mention that she is not from the UK but Poland, and although she has lived here for 8 years or so, hasn’t had the opportunity to dig into the history of London’s traditions. Naturally, that is changing. I’d briefly explained the significance of the Pearly suits with the buttons but her research told her more than I ever could.
As I’ve mentioned before, tradition is something that London does very well and it was wonderful to see so many people wearing costumes and taking part; it’s been a busy year for these people and it is a credit to them and the City that after all that has happened they still turn out and put on a show. It makes me feel very proud to call London my home when I get the chance to go to these events and to be able to discuss them with someone who is not as up to speed on some of the items makes it even more special.
The marching band were in the arena and began to play a medley of traditional Music Hall songs. Bear in mind this is London, celebrating a generally east-end tradition and the average age of the audience would have been (conservatively) in the mid 70’s – a full blooded sing-song was quickly underway.
Having been brought up in the east end for the most part, I knew a lot of the songs and as regulars will know, I’m not shy when it comes to belting out a tune! I was talking to Alex afterwards and said to her that I am probably of the last generation that really know and understand the Music Hall traditions – my maternal grandmother died last year at the age of 91; she would have loved being here and would have known all the words to all the songs. She passed this on as best she could, but the lack of flashing lights and “apps” related to the topic means that the traditions we were witnessing today will be all but extinct in maybe 50 or so years. I hope not, but I do fear that there isn’t the interest there once was.
The next part of the afternoon saw all the performers and distinguished guests form up for the parade to the church. We stayed to watch this leave the square and then decided to go in search of a warm drink. As we walked along Cheapside towards St. Paul’s the parade caught up with us and we did a bit more watching, something I never tire of where traditions are involved and Alex seems to like it too, which is really great.
A quick look around inside the hideous One New Change shopping centre proved what I’d feared – nowhere to go and just get a tea/coffee and a bite – full blown restaurants only! As we went back onto Cheapside we both saw something which pleased and upset us in equal measure – Starbucks!
As I may have said before, I am no fan of identikit high street coffee chains. Give me Pellicci’s in Bethnal Green, Balans or Bar Italia in Soho any day of the week. On the other hand, the need for refreshment was becoming increasingly urgent; Alex was freezing! So Starbucks it was.
Now, I really, really do not get these places. There is clearly a set of conventions or rules that people have to follow, vis. placing an order, paying for it and then having to move to another area to collect their purchase. But they are not all the same and it is quite a daunting prospect for someone who is an infrequent patron of such establishments. At this point I must offer a word of apology to DC – he’ll be spitting feathers knowing I gave in to the corporate coffee chains!
That is the other thing – I Just. Wanted. Coffee. Not a thingy-chino, or a cuppa-mucha, choco-bollocko or whatever they are called. Just. Ordinary. Coffee. When I mentioned this to the woman behind the counter she made me feel as though I was from another planet. So, in an attempt to be as unambiguous as possible, I added “no froth, no bits, no sprinkles, just plain old coffee”. “Oh, I can do you filter if you like?” I readily accepted and also ordered the Hot Chocolate that Alex was growing ever more anxious to get on the outside of.
Another point of clarification. My entry for the 2nd September included 875 words on Tea. I would have loved to have Tea and so would Alex. But we are of one mind when it comes to Tea in such places as that in which we found ourselves – just don’t. When we attend our next outdoor event I think I’ll take my flask – I should have thought of it this time, but, well, I’d had a long day, already!
We took time over our drinks; although we wanted to get to Chinatown as it was the last day of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, and I was keen to see how it was being celebrated in London, there was plenty of time. We walked past St. Paul’s as I wanted Alex to see Paternoster Square – it is a good example of modern building blending in well with established sites of importance, and they don’t come more established or important than St. Pauls, do they? As luck would have it, access to the square was blocked because a crane was in operation. A pity, but there will be other days. We had a look at the exterior of the Cathedral instead. I remarked how it was great that the building had been given a full external clean in recent years – it must have taken the thick end of a decade to do it, but she really does look majestic. I can recall seeing it in the 70’s and 80’s, with all the dirt and grime of London traffic resting on it – I really hope the advances in fuel technology means the building can stay clean for several years yet.
We needed to be heading west and as we walked down Ludgate Hill, Alex noticed that the church of St. Martin’s had its doors open and wanted to take a look inside. It is a building I’ve been past hundreds of times but have never been in, so I was all for it. As might be expected for a church in the City, it was not on the large side, but it was immaculate. We were greeted by a Chinese lady clutching a baby who told us that they hold a service there every Sunday afternoon and that they had just finished so we were welcome to look around. She asked if either of us had been to China and I mentioned that I’d been twice, albeit for only a few days on each occasion in 2006. Alex hasn’t been, although a cousin is working there at present and she is rather keen on going to visit. When I mentioned that I had been in Beijing, our host asked what I’d thought of it.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for me; a time of several “firsts” and it was great to see another totally different culture, but the really heavy pollution was a real downside and is something I’d not experienced before or since. I relayed this as best I could without trying to be too negative and it was something of a relief when she agreed with me! She told us that we should visit Hong Kong, which I have actually thought about, as there are some stunning night views to be captured. We chatted some more and then went on our way – I will go back there at some point soon, as I’d love to photograph the interior.
Being a mild early evening (it had warmed up compared to earlier on), we decided to take a walk along Fleet Street as it would be heading in the right direction for Chinatown. Alex needed to make a call so we left the main street and wandered into the churchyard around St. Bride’s, which was free of traffic noise but we were treated to the sounds of a choir from within the church. I wandered around the outside to have a look but mainly so that Alex could make her call. Once she’d done we decided to make use of one of the many benches around the church – it was so quiet apart from the lovely sound coming from within the church – hard to grasp that Fleet Street was about 100 yards to the north!
After what seemed like no time at all, but in reality was the thick end of an hour and a half, we decided it was time to head west. Alex ambled off in the general direction of the gate whilst I took the opportunity to pop the flash onto the camera and re-arrange a few things – I knew it would be busy so it was easier to rig where I was. I soon followed Alex and she was heading back towards me, with a really worried look on her face. All she said was “We have a problem – the gate is locked”.
Right; we are incarcerated in a churchyard, in the middle of the City of London on a Sunday evening. I had absolutely no reason to doubt her, but as you would, I went and checked the gate for myself. A bit like when someone says “that paint is wet” – you have to touch it and see, don’t you? Don’t you?
Anyway, having confirmed it for myself, a quick look around the grounds was in order to see if an alternative means of exit was available – there was, but alas that too was locked. I’m not aware of anyone being charged with “Breaking & Exiting” but I wasn’t prepared to be the test case. Alex is busy looking at ways to scale the railings (which are a good 8-12 feet high) but there is a drop of an additional 5 or 6 feet on the other side as the churchyard is raised above street level. I foresaw broken bones and bruised pride, so quickly discounted the idea of playing the Great Escape.
Alex was beginning to look terrified and the last thing we needed was panic stations. I put a call through to the Met control room and explained the situation. Barely able to hide his laughter, the operator said he’d pass it to CoL as we were on their ground – but when you dial 101 in London all calls go through to the MPS desk.
I had a call back within a few minutes from the CoL at Wood Street. The operator was also having some difficulty in keeping a straight face, which was amusing. She said they were trying to raise a keyholder and she’d call back when there was news. I relayed this to Alex who was beginning to find it within herself to smile – it was bloody funny, really. After a short while, someone walked up to the gate and shouted a greeting. It seems the CoL desk had called him to see if he had contact details for anyone connected with the church, as he was responsible for another site nearby. As luck would have it, he did and had called the Vicar and explained our predicament. As he was updating us, two officers from the CoL Police arrived wearing grins that would give that bloody cat from Cheshire cause for concern. We were chatting to them through the gate and generally passing the time when another two officers arrived. I jokingly asked if it was a slow night as we now had 7 people involved and they all grinned something about having “grave” concerns for our safety – remember where we were? Yes, quite. The latter two said that they were only stopping by to offer assistance and were “ghouling” off duty now, in any case. I was beginning to realise how animals in a zoo must feel…
We all stand chatting about everything and nothing when we are joined by another, but from behind Alex and I, who are locked in! To add to what is rapidly becoming a farce, this new person is clad in pyjamas and a dressing gown! I kid you not, dear reader. He is the Vicar and is holding a bunch of keys. He was quite laid back and asked where we had been at lock-up . I told him where we were and he said that the grounds should have been checked so apologised and let us out. Apparently there is another gate at the back but is easily missed unless you know it is there – it leads to the vicarage!
The caretaker from the neighbouring building dashes off with our thanks, the Vicar goes back to whatever he was doing and we exchange a few words with the remaining CoL officers who then get a call and have to dash off. As soon as they are out of sight, Alex and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Once we’ve calmed down we resume our journey to Chinatown, but opt for the 15 bus to Piccadilly – after all, what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing, thank gawd. I was expecting great things from the Chinese community, but to be honest it was a bit of a damp squib – either they don’t go a bundle on it over here or they were celebrating in private. After a mooch around we popped into a small eating house for something to eat, which was lovely, then it was time to head home. But as weekends go, it was one of the best I’ve had in ages.