All about Eve

I can’t recall exactly when I met Eve, it was sometime in the late 1990s and the first words we exchanged were of irritation with each other as I helped a customer carry out her flowers to her car when I worked in New Covent Garden.  Eve was also there buying flowers, I recognised her as a regular to the market but did not know her.

The next time I saw her I made a point of speaking to her to apologise for my tetchiness, she said “I was rude too but you apologised first, so I have won that one, now if you have some peach L.A. lilies on the move we will be friends for ever”. And as it happened, I did, exactly the 60 stems she was looking for and we were friends for life.

image      Longiflorum Asiatic lilies ‘Menorca’ On the move means beginning to open

We shouldn’t have been, we were worlds apart in every respect.  Eve’s birth and marriage were reported in The Times, I came from a council estate.  She was an atheist, I am not.  Her children went to public schools, mine went to the local Catholic primary, followed by a Catholic comprehensive, as did I.  But we clicked, and by the time I had written the ticket for the lilies and she had paid me (I remember the sum was £56.40) we were chums.

Any time Eve arrived on the stand where I worked, to buy flowers, she would put down a cup of tea, catch my eye, point to it and carry on with her buying, the tea was for me, there were no words of greeting, she just got on with it.  Once the work was done, we’d chat and catch up on each others lives.  I introduced her to the joys of the flower market cafe, she would pop over and get me my favoured breakfast of an egg and mushroom toasted sandwich with a milky coffee which she too thoroughly enjoyed.

She had complete respect for my faith when she mixed in circles that included the most well known of atheists (yes, him) and even put herself on a train from Newbury to Thornton Heath on a Friday evening in June 2003 to attend my ordination.  Have I mentioned by now that I am younger than her son?  I don’t think I have.  She would telephone me to place orders in the evening when we were both at home, but she would not chat, I would answer the phone saying

“Hello Eve” to which she would reply                                                      “Tone?”                                                                                                     . I’d say “No, Gary Barlow/The Pope/Shane Richie” or some such celebrity, and she would rattle off her order.  She would not stop to chat as she was aware she might be cutting into ‘homework or bedtime’ as she called the evenings.

I was her window into popular culture, thanks to me she learned of Big Brother, X Factor and Ant and Dec.  Eve had not owned at TV until after her husband died in 1989, by which time all her children had left home.  I was privileged to be a witness to her rather acerbic wit and I once had the privilege (yes privilege) to put my arm round her while she shed tears.  After this event she told me “no one does that unless they have bought me a ring”.  She did not know London terribly well.  The flower market is in Vauxhall, when I said I lived in Croydon she said “oh, local then” she meant it.  I believe she thought Thornton Heathens lived cheek by jowl with those on The Strand.

Eve retired from “doing flowers” in 2006 but we kept in regular touch.  Our conversations would start with her saying “Listen darling, how’s the ministry going?” And I would have to avail her of the names of the babies I had baptised, the dead I had buried the couples I had married and the theme of my latest homily.

In January 2008 I was taken into hospital, I was very seriously ill with an uncommon  strain of bacterial pneumonia.  10 days into my stay in hospital I awoke to find my hand being held by Eve.  (I am typing this with tears in my eyes at the memory, really, I have had to stop and wipe my eyes to see what I am typing)  As I opened my eyes she said “There you are, Darling, really, you look like utter shit”.   I have never held onto a hand as tightly as I held Eve’s that day.  I have no idea how long she was with me.  When she left she said “your London buses are very different to those I remember”. And that was the last time I saw her.

Eve died in the Autumn of 2009, she had battled Leukemia for four years but in true stoic, Eve, fashion had only told her loved ones three months before her death.  This time it was my turn to put myself on a train to Newbury from Thornton Heath and attend her send off.

The crematorium was packed. I had met her son before and was touched that he knew me immediately.  Her son was her pride and joy, she described herself as “having the privilege of being the mother of the nicest, kindest, most gentle gentleman to walk the earth”, and I think she may have been right. His eulogy started “Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you completely broken hearted, which for a man in his 50s at his widowed mother’s funeral is ridiculous”.  Can you think of anything more touching?

Her grandson also spoke, but he lightened the mood.  He relayed some of Eve’s comical, and perhaps not so kind observations of people whom he did not name

“If his face had been a pudding you’d send it back”                                            “She makes me laugh, she doesn’t know it but she makes me laugh”                  “They won’t need to print an order of service for his funeral”                              “One leg shorter than the other, such an advantage in a hill race”                       “She was nowhere near that young when we were at school”                             “He made bad breath honorable”                                                                     “Couldn’t hold down a relationship with some six inch nails and a healthy bit of twobetwo” (ask me about that one if we ever meet)

The tears of joy and sadness mingled together at that funeral, which to my amazement ended with The Lord’s Prayer.

Why am I telling you about Eve?  Last week I received a phone call telling me said grandson wanted to speak to me.  He wanted to know about his grandmother’s view on my faith.  He is now considering a call to Baptist ministry, but wanted to be assured she’d approve.

Well she certainly wouldn’t object.


A Community remembers

During the school holidays I aim to get to daily Mass, and that includes Saturdays.  This morning I walked round to my local church, expecting to find the usual 30-40 people there who usually come to the Saturday morning Mass but the car park was full.  As I walked into the porch I was handed an order of service which told me this Mass would be for the Fr Jim MaGuire who had been parish priest in Caterham from 1994 – 2007.  The church was almost full, but I found a seat at the very back and joined this community in their commemoration.

The parish priest, Fr Seán, presided and he was joined by his predecessor (Fr Jim’s successor) Fr Kieran.  As the bell rang we stood and joined together singing, rather softly but unitedly Here I Am Lord, there were even some people at the back who added harmonies to this.

Fr Seán had chosen the readings.  The first was Tobit 5; 9-22, recounting the story of Tobias going on his mission, we sang The Lord’s My Shepherd and Fr Kieran read the Gospel,  Mark 6: 6-13 “go out, take no spare tunic…”.  

Fr Seán preached, he told us of the Irish Missions, mentioning especially St Aidan, St Columbanus and St Columba and likened Fr Jim’s journey of faith bought him on a similar mission.

We sang I watched the Sunrise at the offertory and Sweet Sacrament Divine at Communion.  After Communion Biddy stood up and told us about Fr Jim, what an excellent, kind, pastor he had been to the parish.  A man who had no false airs and graces about him and how amused he was to have been mistaken for the caretaker on one occasion.

Fr Seán invited everyone into the hall for tea and coffee “but at midday the bar will be open”.  Our recessional hymn was Be Thou My Vision.  I did not stay as I did not know Fr Jim, but I left the church feeling I had missed out on knowing such a gentleman as he.  I telephoned home to say I was only just leaving church (when I should have been arriving home) and as I finished the call I bumped into someone i know.  Having chatted about half term I told him about the Mass.  He is not a Catholic of regular practice but said he must rush at once to perhaps see people as ‘Fr Jim was so loved, I miss him, I bet there’s a huge crowd there”

He was right


An Emmaus Moment

twas over 10 years ago now on a quiet day in the flower market.  There were no ‘punters’ about, I seem to recall it was about 8am and we’d been at work for five hours.  I was at the back of the stand with my two colleagues talking about nothing.

A man strolled along the front of the stand.  Slightly bedraggled hair, looked about 60, looked rather tired.  He wore a large coat, he had his hands in his pockets helping to keep the coat wrapped round him.  He stopped and looked at the tulips, then he looked up, made eye contact and I stepped forward.  Judging him to not be the wealthiest of people I made the decision to not go higher than normal on price.  It’s how markets work, we’d do that from time to time.

“Tulips?” he asked
“yup” said I
“How many in a bunch?”
“50, and we don’t split the wraps” said I, correcting his esoterics
“how much?” he said
“from 12.50” I said, not overly engaged either I must admit
“that one?” he said pointing to a bundle of red Rococo parrot tulips

“17.50 for the parrots, that’s 20.57 with the VAT”
“Yes please” he said, I handed them to him and went to the back of the stand to get my salesbook.

As I wrote out the ticket a tall (she seemed) elegant,serene, stunningly beautiful woman came up to him;
“I’ve got these” he said
“lovely, where for?” she asked
with that he gave me £21 and I went to the back of the stand to get 43p change from the biscuit tin we laughingly called the till.

As I came back they walked off, I held up my hand with the change, he looked back and sort of waved me off in polite manner that said ‘keep the change’.

it was then that I realised. I understood in a small way how the two disciples Jesus met on the road to Emmaus felt when they recognised him. I just served



All the fun of the….

I had my hair cut this morning.  We are going to a ‘suoerheros’ fancy dress tonight, I’m going as Bob Parr, and as I have splashed out on the outfit, I thought the hair should be as short as his. (photo to follow)

The barbers I go to is very popular, but I was lucky as there was not a queue. They usually have four chairs occupied.  Today there were three barbers working, only one was busy when I got there so I was straight in the chair, minutes later a seven year old was brought in by his mum.

The place soon had the usual queue, it’s a jolly place in a small town and people tend to chat quite a bit, it is very social in there, when two ladies came in with five children, two girls two boys and a babe in arms.  The barbers all greeted the boys as they had been there only yesterday.  One of the mums apologised for interrupting and started to explain why they were there;

“You cut the boys’ hair yesterday” she said, the barbers all agreed this was the case

“they were with this lady” she said holding out a photo, the barbers again agreed this was the case, the mum insisted they take the photo

“she’s our mum” she said indicating to her sister “she’s their grandmum and she has no right to have their hair cut, it’s not your fault because you didn’t know, but if she brings them again to have their hair cut, please please say no, it’s not the first time she has done this and she has ignored us when we have said she’s not to do it.”

“Didn’t she do it at the barbers on Westway?” said one of the barbers

“Yes, last year, how did you know?”

“I heard about it when I worked there last year”

The ladies apologised for interrupting, we all agreed it was perfectly fine and in fact, rather entertaining, and they left.

“Is grandmum a word?” asked one of the chaps in the queue

Let Battle Commence

Last week was one of my favourite weeks in school, it was Reconciliation Week.  It’s always so heartening when students come freely to seek the sacrament, or, in the case of non Catholics, even non Christians, to speak to a priest.  It’s also a joy that the priests are willing to be so generous with their time.

With the priests sitting on the sanctuary at discrete distances from each other I have music playing softy to stop any any conversations being overheard. Edwin Fawcett is a regular feature for this task but we do use sacred music too.

One of the boys commented on leaving the chapel that perhaps Christmas carols could have been played, I explained why not.

Later in the playground some of the chaps chatted to me about about carols they felt we might get away with, while I was gently firm on the matter it’s always a treat when the students want to speak to you in their free time.  The lads and I found we had a mutual appreciation for the a cappella group Pentatonix, we then started discussing which was their best carol performance.  it soon boiled down to two, rejecting O Holy Night for being too “grantastic” (don’t you love teenagers)  it came down to a battle between two, Mary Did You Know  and Little Drummer Boy  ; see what you think.


The things I’ve been called…

I was in Westminster Cathedral today when a chap came up to me trying to jump the Confession queue.  I was not in the confession queue, I was standing looking into the baptistery.

“Father can you hear my confession?”
“Sorry, I’m not a priest I am a deacon, so I can’t”
“No it’s OK, my Parish Priest says you can”
After a few seconds thought I said “but I don’t know the words of absolution”. He went off and left me.  It was amusing to think he thought I would not know if I could give absolution or not.

Shortly after I had just left the St Joseph’s chapel where today they had prayers for Paris when a lady approached me and said “Father there’s a long queue for confession, can you hear my confession please?”
“Sorry I can’t, I’m not a priest I am a deacon”
“a gherkin?”
-pause- “yes, so I can’t hear confessions”.

So next time I am there, do I wear a collar with pride, or do I cover it so I do not disappoint people when I cannot help them receive the sacrament.

Flu jabs, doodahs and wassnames

Yesterday someone on Twitter mentioned ‘flu jabs’ and it reminded me of one of the funniest yet disquieting episodes of my teenage working life.  It has rattled on for nearly 40 years

It was 1976, I was 17 and was an Office Junior, I worked with six other people, five others aged between 18-32 and a gentleman old enough to be my dad who, in those days, kept himself to himself.  The company was privately owned by the chairman.  His grandson, who was three years older than I was being groomed for great things.  There were five managers and a Personal Assistant also in the office all of whom we called by their surnames.  Sales and portering staff numbered thirty three.

The chairman sent his grandson round in late October ’76 to ask each of us if we wanted a flu jab, this was the first time he had done this and he was paying for it himself, a kindness I have always appreciated. While five of my close colleagues were, like me, somewhat quiet, one of us, we will call her Karen, enjoyed being the centre of attention.

The question came to all of us, “would you like a flu jab?” I was the first and said yes please.  ‘Karen’ was the second and bless her heart she did not understand what she was being asked;  “a flu jab?  Yeah I’ll have a flu jab, I’ll have a doodah and a wassname while I’m there too” she answered.  We all laughed, we all answered and the grandson went off happy that we had all said yes.

One of my other colleagues, let’s call him Don, said “what’s a flu jab, what are we getting?” with that the phone rang, and the question went unanswered and forgotten.

Until two days later.   When the doctor arrived to give us our injections Karen, Don and our older, notably quiet colleague found out what they had signed up for.  Trouble broke out.  Don was ok with having the injection but Karen and Mr Quiet were not.  This was the strangest of alliances, these were not two people who would normally seek or cite each other’s views.

The chairman was not happy, he had paid for the injections and two perfectly eloquent people were saying they did not know what was meant by ‘flu jab’.  Our chairman was polite but stern with them, they were the only two people on the whole company of 45 employees who were not having the injection so he told them they can decline the injection if they wish, but should they have time off because of flu, they won’t get paid.  Mr Quiet acquiesced. Karen did not, vociferously.

The following day I was among 10 employees who tipped up to work but had to go home again as we reacted badly against the injection.  Karen did not let this go, and she reminded us of this every year for eight years while I worked there, and beyond.

The whole episode left us all feeling very uncomfortable at first and for a long time we  too.  Eventually, after a good couple of years, we were able to laughed about it.  Even Karen and Mr Quiet.  Although we have not worked together for over 30 years,  we all five, know where each other is, Mr Quiet having died ten years later, but even now, we refer to ‘flu jabs, doodahs and wassnames’ with amusement, even throwing ‘thingamybobs and effergies’ into the mix.

The midnight train to Putney

….or Banstread or Whetstone or Kirkby-in-Ashfield, anywhere you care to name.

We awoke this morning to the news that Labour Leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn would consider, after consultation, the idea of women only train carriages.  Nothing new there,  I remember the stares when I, as a spotty acrylan clad seventeen year old got into a women only carriage, this must have been about 1975/76 as I was on my way to a Caister Soul Weekender (I’ve never been cool).

Corbyn’s idea was being slammed left right and centre (pun intended).  He had put this idea forward in the light of figures showing a 25% increase in sexual assaults on public transport.

Fellow leadership contenders Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham said it was turning the clock back, which it is, the Everyday Sexism Project, which only speaks of sexism against and not by women on their website, said Corbyn admitted defeat in the fight against sexism with this move and a good few journalists and commentators made silly sniping comments.  Matilda Murday wrote a very balanced piece here where as a feminist she gives good arguments for not undertaking this initiative.

I fully agreed with Ms Murday and I think I still do, but then the mental cogs started whirring and I got to thinking.  My initial thought when I heard Corbyn’s thoughts was “it’s a train Jezza, not a mosque on wheels” and the idea of segregation was what concerned me.  But hang about, segregation has existed on public transport all my life, and it still does.  What about quiet carriages on trains where you cannot bore your fellow passengers with the ins and outs of the job interview or your cousin’s funeral, is that not segregation?  It was not all that long ago smokers were segregated on trains and buses, and as I said at the start, women only carriages existed as recently as colour televisions and trimphones, so why is it such a bad idea now?.

What would be the purpose of this segregation?  Surely it would be to help some women feel more comfortable travelling on public transport, particularly those who have had occasion to feel uneasy or unsafe.  Can we really say to them ‘no you can’t have what you want to feel safe because other people won’t like it’, we are not talking about weapons here.                                                                                                .
Various arguments, all with merit have been given against this initiative, segregation in the third millennium is wrong, men need to know how to behave, passengers need to work together to keep each other safe, a woman who is attacked in a mixed carriage will be blamed for not using the women only carriage, women still get attacked by other women on trains, these ideas all have merit, but so does the ‘feel safe’ argument.  

Ultimately I would have to agree with Ms Murday on this, I just don’t like the idea for no other reason than I just don’t like the idea, and if it was proved not to be effective, somehow, women would get the blame.

My peace I give to you

Recently other more eminent gentlemen than I have written on how Catholics treat each other on line, this is a very pedestrian account of some recent events. I cannot begin to reach the eloquence of those who have written before me, so I won’t try.

This time last month saw a bit of a kerfuffle happening on social media.  A threat had been made on a blog and it was believed I was responsible.  I was blissfully unaware of all this as I was on holiday with everything but Facebook and my personal email account deactivated.

But then the emails started to come, I asked to be told no more and deactivated this also, checking in every other day on a hotel computer in case I missed some exciting news.  Towards the end of the holiday I received an email telling me I had been exonerated, and a second from the man who’s blog had received the threat offering the hand of friendship.

To say we had not been friends before is an understatement and I was most grateful of his action.  I have upset people in the past and offered apologies only to be ignored.  I accepted, delighted to put any discord to rest although I am uneasy with my own view of those to whom I have apologised and heard nothing.

In the past two years or so I have made mistakes on Twitter and I have never been shy to admit it, I have also looked to correct my errors, in fact the very reason this blog exists is due to the need to correct a perceived misrepresentation on my part.  In that time I have also made friends with people who have watched from the peripheries and offered me support.  Some of these had made me aware of a group referred to as ‘The Other Place’ which had been started by a very small group of people to coordinate sockpuppet accounts that would post on a specific blog and defend orthodox Catholic positions from liberals and non Catholics.  I had referred to knowing of this group in the past, I once asked on Twitter if one of their accounts, called Wylder Hall would be joining us, it appeared to go unnoticed.

My new friend made me aware of more recent activity in the group, I had been the focus of attention to someone with whom I believed I had made peace, I was told by she and one other in the spring of 2014 that they had nothing against me so please leave them alone.  Although it was upsetting to see both these accounts make unkind comments about me from time to time.  I have been encouraged by others in the past to take such comments further, I have even had offers of funding for legal action. My stock answer was I would need a year to see how i felt, knowing that the statute of limitations of defamation and libel is a year and a day.  Such action would do nobody any good, least of all me or my patron. And the man who was man enough to offer me a hand of friendship is now among those whom I admire most in all the world, not for what he has done for me, but for what he has done at his own personal cost.

Another Twitter account which had been raised using the name of a blog contributor of 1 June 2013 which attacked just about everything I tweeted, was also discussed at this time.  A name for the author of this account was put forward, whether this name is correct or not I have no interest but it’s a clear indication that such toxic accounts damage people other than those whom they target.

One or two others have been in touch privately offering a hand of peace after I had we had fallen out over my unwillingness to acquiesce to my detractors and pretend none of this was happening, I am delighted to have these friends back again.

“The Other Place” is more or less deserted, by choice or otherwise  This will not see an end to the overzealous heresy hunting we witness but hopefully might see an end to the name calling (ie Strawman) and ad hom hashtags (ie #heterodox #epicfail) used by some of Twitter’s more excitable contributors.

At this time a quieting from a couple of the attacking anonymous accounts has also been observed.  I believe this might be that they have been reminded, one subtlety on not so, that their true identity is known.  This has seen a decrease in their bravado, if they want to throw of the sock and join us in reasoned debate it would be great, the rest of us are all getting on like chums now.