Discovering The City of London - Part 1
dedicated to my husband Tim
It is unlike me to leave my camera behind at home and venture out to discover streets of London, armed only with my mobile.
I dropped Zuzia off to nursery together with her Halloween Scooby-Doo outfit and then dashed to Lewisham Hospital to see my husband. I got a special permission from a discharge coordinator (quite a mouthful, especially if you have to say it while stressed out) to drop off some things that Tim needed. I'll be coming back to spend a couple of hours with him in the afternoon, that is during visiting hours.
My destination today is St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, one of many churches in the City of London I need to become quite knowledgeable about within months. Instead of opting for the shortest route I find myself attracted by back alleys near St Paul's and I stumble upon a pub that is on my 'to-do list' .
The Ye Olde Watling stands on Watling Street - the Roman road leading out of the City via Ludgate. Like many old pubs it boasts about its history and it is often hard to tell a fact from a legend. It is said that the pub catered for Sir Christopher Wren's workmen after the Great Fire of 1666. Legend has it that the rooms upstairs were used as a drawing office at the time of the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral. It is also said that Wren built it (just 2 years after the Great Fire) from old ships' timber.
By now, I'm starving but I resist the temptation lurking from the sign outside The Ye Olde Watling'Breakfast 2 for £10'. The picture shows very English breakfast indeed. Instead, I promise myself I will come back with Tim and then we will have our ritual fish and chips and a pint pub test (we give extra points to pubs that serve mushy peas). Ever since our first ever date happened to be in a pub, fish and chips bring back quite romantic memories.
I make a mental note to come back and investigate the area in depth, as I discover that a nearby Boots was obviously a pub as well in its previous life. I am about to turn back when I notice a church tucked away. I must admit I can't remember at first what church it is, but as I walk in and look up, the beauty of the fan vaulting ceiling above me unfolds like a spectacle. I am indeed inside St Mary Aldermary. Like many of the churches in the City it was burned down in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren only to be bombed during the second world war. It is not however its fascinating history I am thinking of now.
I still need some time to get used to the fact that churches had to reinvent themselves. Especially here in the City which becomes a 'ghost town' at weekends. Some churches have even been turned into residences while others opened cafes and bookshops on their premises.
I wouldn't mind having another coffee (I admit I am not too fond of tea and if I ever have it, I would drink it with a slice of lemon rather than with milk, which makes me obviously quite an eccentric visitor to an English home).
I come up to a young man to pay for a postcard displaying the church's magnificent ceiling. He is obviously busy moping the floor but doesn't mind pointing out where the toilets are. The fact that you can use toilets at church never stops to puzzle me. Needless to say, when I was a schoolgirl toilets were only for priests and to even think of going to the toilet at church would be considered profane.
I come back and order a small latte. An innocent question 'Where are you from' and my answer 'Poland' leads to a lovely chat; partially in Polish. Christos is from Greece but he lived in Krakow (or if you prefer Cracow) for 6 months where he learned some Polish. We talk about the English, the Greek, the Irish and my husband who is at hospital. I discover that his name has a double meaning. One of them is 'to be useful'. I tell him that he is most useful and that I will definitely return and bring Tim along. I turn back and to my surprise I notice quite a few comfortable settees and tables. At one of them someone is sitting with his laptop. Before I leave, I do something I haven't done for a while - I light a candle and write down a card with my intention.
It is now nearly lunch time and everywhere you look around city workers and tourists crowd the streets, cafes and restaurants. I find a Japanese place I know. Its slogan 'promises health and happiness'.
It is 1 pm when I arrive at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate and I have 10 minutes to explore it before a classical music concert starts. I smile when I read that Sir John Betjeman ( a remarkable man of many talents and a self-taught guide) described this largest Parish Church in the City of London as 'high, wide and handsome'. I can't remember a saint called Sepulchre. In fact, as I learn from a little guide there isn't one. 'At the time of the Crusades the church became known as 'St Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre' and eventually 'St Sepulchre' - after the Holy Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem. One of the most fascinating stories is the one of the execution bell displayed in a glass case on a pillar. In 1605 Robert Dowe gave £50 for the ringing of the bell on the mornings of executions outside old Newgate Prison which stood , until 1902, on the site now occupied by the Central Criminal Court.
I have just enough time to locate the famous or infamous bell, before the concert starts. There are not many of us, as we sit and listen to An-Ting Chang, a young woman from Taiwan play with passion. Here comes Franz Schubert and (what a lovely surprise) Frederic Chopin, followed by Bach and Ravel. There is something about piano music that touches your heart and cracks the shell you may try to build around you. I can feel my eyes well up with tears and leave before the concert ends. It is however, only the first one of the concerts organised by The Anglo-Japanese Society of Wessex to be held in this church. One couldn't imagine a better place for concerts than this church where young Henry Wood learnt to play the organ. It was him who founded the famous Promenade Concerts that are still run every year. Henry Wood is not the only musician connected with the church and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate has been nicknamed 'The Musicians' Church'.
An hour later, I stop outside Lewisham Hospital. Two men are handing out leaflets that say 'Save Lewisham Hospital's A&E. I leave my contact details with them. Last Saturday Tim was brought here to our nearest hospital after his lung had collapsed.
If Lewisham A&E closes, 3 neighbouring boroughs with a population of 750.000 will share one A&E, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. It will mean a long journey for residents of Lewisham and it could cost lives.