Christmas 2015 has swept in on eponymous storms into the land of UK and left a deluge of water that has tried to swamp the usual fulsome peals of Anglican Bells that call to the faithful over 50s.
Talking of bells it turns out that my current place of employment whilst the Diplomat saves the world is right next to Mary Le Bow: a Church built (like so many) under the offices of Sir Christopher Wren, completed in 1673 after the earlier version (which dates back to around 1080, built by Archbishop Lanfranc) was turned to toast in 1666. It also got destroyed in World War II, but managed to get back to its knees in 1964.
These bells are quite famous, being part of a series of twelve that have made their way into London folklore and a nursery rhyme.
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Debate about meaning and origin aside, travelswithadiplomat found himself wandering up Cheapside one balmy December lunchtime, eschewing the black overcoat or suit that the City’s neo-Victorians garb themselves in (either because it is slimming or they’re rushing off to a funeral) and taking a left into Mary Le Bow. Outside I stopped to indulge in my favourite pastime of plaque reading; I find one dedicated to playwright, John Milton, who stopped by this place for an 1608 December baptism before losing himself in finding Paradise.
Underneath the Church is a crypt that is now a restaurant. The cultural captious part of me grumbles “Bah, Humbug!” at such a trendy destruction of a hallowed place. I lurch down stairs that are satisfyingly worn and narrow, curtly brushing off the polite inquiries as to where I might sit and dine, asking to be pointed to the crypt for historical satiation. Well, not quite. The Diplomat has worked her hard charm on me and travelswithadiplomat rather more politely suggests he is a wandering tourist, keen to see London’s history and might beg to return for a cold lemonade once his visit is over. Or not.
I am pointed to narrow doorway, ushered through a solid, oak door. It’s cool (both in temperature and awe). My snapping away was respectfully restricted to one photo as people were worshipping/reflecting. I was only able to get a grainy shot of the floor gravestone of one John Yonge…so grainy in fact I’m not publishing it…and this fast snap of the altar. After a moment of of introspection, soaking up the ambience of history I slink away.
Leaving through the rear exit, scampering up a dozen steps to the small square that sits alongside the church I blink back into the cloudy air of London. Plunging back into its quiet sculptured, vaulted space away from the seething ants of workers at lunch, I note the Cheapside Cross stone – which marks the resting place of the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I before it went to Westminster Abbey – and a statue to Capt John Smith who lead the Virginia Colony at Jamestown.
Inside I am the only travelswithadiplomat reading about the Flagons and Alms Dish panel that dates to eponymous gifts donated in the 17th Century to St Augustine and All Hallows churches. I amble around, scanning busts, plaques, stain glass. It is atypical of English Churches, yet my three year sojourn in Thailand has given me a new appreciation for these places that I grew up in; made me realise that these places have as much place on this blog as all those exotic places in ASEAN. To those whom I friended abroad, your cultural places are eagerly read about in British papers and website, in blogs and books; but I have realised the importance of not ceasing now I am ‘home’, that this Sceptered Isle is as exotic to my Asian friends as the Golden Peninsula is exotic (still) to me.
You might like to read about them so here they are…
Lastly, tis said that if you are born within earshot of this Church then, and only then, can you truly claim to be a Cockney. Now ain’t that the Babe Ruth? 😉
Is this what diplomacy is all about?