Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 118: “What sweeter music...”

The last time I returned to London, was over Christmas and New Year of 2006 going into 2007. As much as I like to spend time with family and friends when I’m back in the UK, much of the nine to five of my day (when others are working) I spend in splendid solitude moseying about and briskly walking the streets, lanes, alleys and pathways of one of the world’s greatest cities.

I’m happy to do this one my own as then, I can follow my own capricious whims and fancies, whether it be sitting quietly on a platform at my favourite Underground station, Baker Street or marching with pomp along Whitehall, or whatever takes a hold of me that I might fancy. Pressing my nose up against the extravagant windows of Bond Street retailers is a frequent hobby of mine, and, like iron filings to a magnet, something always draws me to the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

The good thing about the hectares of time that I have on my hands, is the luxury of not making any commitee decisions about where I should be at what time to do whatever with whom. If I’m with someone who does not share the same love of books and reading that I do, then schlepping around Foyles in the Charing Cross Road becomes like dragging kids around a museum that they don’t really want to be at or in. All in all, it’s just best that I don’t put anyone else through that and I then can take as long as I like in whatever idiosyncratic section of a bookshop takes my delight.

I’m very good at giving insider tips to those visiting London, but never get many suggestions back. However, prior to that particular trip, my good friend, David Norman, did make a suggestion to me that I am now going to share with you as he generously did with me.

Choral Evensong at Westminster Abbey.

Around 4.20pm to 4.30pm of an afternoon (except Wednesdays), a few people, a cluster of pilgrims, some accidental, others premeditated, gather around the main gate to Westminster Abbey on Broad Sanctuary, just down from Parliament Square, and quietly say the passwords to whoever the official is on duty there: “I’m here for the service.” One has to wait patiently at the gate as the tourists visiting the Abbey file out, but then we, or at least I and a few others, were led in and down the side of this great sacred monument, carefully stepping over, or sometimes on, the Kingdom’s great notables - Burns, Byron, Kipling, Purcell, Dickens and Elgar - on our way to the choir stalls in the tiny chapel at the furthest end of this building that was once a cathedral (only for ten years).

I was then ushered into the front row of the centuries old choir stalls and waited in hushed and reverent contemplation, marvelling at the ornament that surrounded me; this is the area or chapel just beyond the High Altar, where all is gilt, gold and crimson. From not-so far away I could hear the ethereal voices of a choir as they approached from somewhere beyond my vision; the dictionary describes ethereal as “delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world” and I could not have described that moment better, had I a knowledge or grasp of every word in the English language at my disposal.

The choir eventually arrived and took their seats in the opposite stalls, There were readings and psalms and prayer and time set aside for contemplation in this most divine of locations and the forty-five minutes or so that the service lasted felt other-worldly in a way that I again, grope for words to describe calling on my inadequate vocabulary. Ushered back out into the cold snap of a lamplit London evening, I could not help but feel purified and restored as a human being, in the finest sense of the words.

I am not a religious man, nor am I not a religious man, if that makes any sense; something of a liturgical limmerick? But, I went back again to Westminster Abbey for more evensong as I would encourage anyone visiting London, whatever your spiritual leanings or not, to do. I don’t think God is checking names and numbers and Googleing us as we enter His house to find out if we warrant a seat a the table, I believe that the welcome here in this particular chuch is broad and roomy, offering a seraphic greeting to all who seek it.

Evensong at Westminster Abbey should be no more missed than buying pineapple conserved in Green Chartreuse at the confection on Piccadilly that is Fortnum & Mason’s.

Day #118 Tip: Surround yourself with the divine and the meaningful
On the desk where my laptop sits that I write this, I gaze around me and like one of those memory games where all might be covered and hidden very soon, here are some of the things I see:

A tortoishell laquered pen that was a 50th birthday gift, prayer beads blessed by the Dalai Lama, a birthday card from the past featuring a picturte of St. Paul’s Cathedral at dusk, a small model of the Apollo space module that made the moon landing, a stone with the word ‘dreams” carved into it (also a gift), a portrait postcard of Charles Dickens, another postcard - this time of the naked female form, a photograph of Ammachi “the hugging mother”, a small picture of the Hindu deity Ganesha, a pair of golden Chinese ideograms on red backgrounds, a samm ornate black box with a painting of St.Niklaus on the top and an old album sleeve from the original movie soundtrack of Mary Poppins.

There are many, many other treasuresthat surround me where I write, as I’m sure everyone has at places that they sit and write too. It’s as though I’ve built something of a living, breathing shrine, decorated with lost, borrowed and founds ‘objets”, many of which have connections to the secular and the non-secular. Around me when I’m writing here, is much of what is important to me and most of what inspires me.

Until tomorrow, let us all, please, go in peace.

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