My ridiculously long Lenten Photo Journey continues…!
Today I travelled To Winchester as I am helping a friend to run a 3 day course which starts there tomorrow. It was a hectic start to the day: packing my own stuff, packing for my daughter who’s staying with my mum, reminding my husband that he needs to feed our son (it’s so tempting to put a full stop there) fruit and vegetables every day.
It was quite a relief to eventually sit down on the train. I treated myself to a delicious mango smoothie and a cereal bar and settled down to enjoy looking out of the window. It was a gorgeous day – brilliant blue sky, blossoming trees, baby lambs in the fields… you get the picture.
It was fun speeding through the countryside, but hard to take a photo of all the beautiful sights as we were travelling so fast. I nearly commented on a picture entitled ‘Blur’, but decided it might be more interesting to look at this photo of The Shard which I managed to snap through the window just after we’d been through London Bridge. The Shard is now the tallest building in the European Union and has become an iconic building in London. I actually rather like it, but understand it got its name because English Heritage suggested it would become “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London”.
In some ways I am probably rather conservative as I hate the thought of losing what is ancient. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, as for some reason we seem to find it easier to appreciate the beauty in old things, to love the patina of age, to enjoy watching buildings decaying gracefully than to see the beauty in the new and unfamiliar.
However, I look at this photo and find it exciting to see so many architectural styles piled next to each other. I like the way it reflects the truth that the city is continually evolving and that new relationships are for ever being formed between the buildings that remain. Not just the buildings – throw into the mix the millions of people living in London from all around the world, with their vastly differing outlooks and experiences, and it’s a really exciting, constantly shifting, very alive place to be.
I feel grateful to live so close to such an exciting place, but equally grateful that I am able to live somewhere calmer, less vibrant, quieter, slower-moving and less anonymous.
My friend and I left her parents’ house early in the morning so that we had plenty of time to set up for the course before 36 girls (aged 8 – 11) arrived. The course is being held in a posh girls’ school with amazing facilities, lovely grounds and elegant buildings. It’s a great venue, but the sort of place that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps this is partly because it’s so different from the school I went to.
This feeling of not quite belonging was emphasised before we’d even entered the building: on every door we could see from the bottom of the staircase we were about to enter, we saw a copy of this incomprehensible message: STRICTLY NO LAX BOOTS. What? What could this possibly mean? I can’t enter if my boots aren’t strict enough? Have I got to wear a different type of boot before I can gain admittance? Before I’ve even gone in through the door, I’m feeling anxious and alienated.
My friend is the one who works out that ‘lax’ must be short for ‘lacrosse’ (which is a sport we’d only ever read about in Enid Blyton stories at my Croydon comprehensive school). I still haven’t got inside, but am now also feeling stupid and uncultured.
A silly little experience perhaps, but it makes me think about how we can so easily alienate and exclude people through our use of language. Language can be used to enhance communication and to make connections, but can also be used – quite unwittingly – to make people feel left out and on the edge. I’m sure this is something we need to think about in the church where we use a language rich in meaning for ourselves, but perhaps give little thought to how meaningless and incomprehensible it is to those who come with a very different background and range of experiences.
Today was just one of those days…
Up till now the course has been going extremely well. The girls are delightful, bright and interested, the activities are going to plan and the feedback from the parents is excellent.
An hour and a half before the kids are due to be collected, it all starts going a bit pear-shaped.
Firstly a delightful young girl tells me that she is feeling sick. I leave my friend in charge of the other 35 kids and start taking the girl down to the toilets. She is then violently sick over herself and an entire flight of carpeted stairs and the vomit hits the ground with such force it splashes back over my feet and ankles (I have stupidly taken off my shoes because they were rubbing). We both pick our way down the stairs where we are joined two minutes later by another girl who has waded through the sick to get to the loo because she has a dramatic nosebleed.
We have been running these courses for 10 years and have never had to deal with more than a scraped knee in all that time. Suddenly I have two ill children to look after, my friend is running an extremely messy and noisy activity with no help from me and in an hour and a half 36 parents are going to have to climb up that nightmarish staircase to collect their precious little ones.
I won’t go into the details of the next few hours. Suffice it to say there was an awful lot of cleaning before we could go back in the evening to my friend’s parents’ house.
I’d like to be able to suggest that, in the midst of all this, my thoughts turned to things above so that I could now share a little holy thought with you about my experience. But the truth is that there was just one thing in my mind at that moment that I thought might help – and it wasn’t prayer.