Category: Essex

Church haul

Church haul

Well the dog has to be walked, so we trudge up the road past Holy Trinity church. Bucket starts to pull in and I begin to wonder if she’s had some kind of canine epiphany. Actually no, she just likes Holy Trinity because the daughter, who’s pretty dog-walk averse, brings her here when instructed: ‘For god’s sake it’s your turn to walk the damn dog’ and it’s the shortest distance she can get away with. Bucket likes to retrace her steps to see if there are any new doggy smells. Holy Trinity, surrounded by a patch of grass, is a vast old Victorian hulk, not a pretty church and surely far too massive for the spiritual requirements of the godless citizens of South Woodford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sunday I went to visit the folks. They still insist on remaining dead and have done so since the early seventies. My wife and I sought them out at their grave in Ravensthorpe, a village, just outside Northampton. The Church is St Denys and frankly I’d never heard of a Saint called Dennis, so I’ve just looked him up.

Apparently, he was born in Italy around 210AD. He became a priest and in 245 Pope Fabian consecrated him and six others as missionary bishops to work in France, where the locals had been giving god-fearing Christians all kinds of hell. Unfortunately, they didn’t take kindly to Denys’ evangelical zeal and he too got it in the neck, quite literally as they chopped off his head. Legend has it that after martyrdom Den carried his head for six miles to the place where he was to be buried. Saved someone else the grisly task, I guess.

The church that bears his name is around 800 years old and is made from beautiful, deep copper, Northampton stone. In the churchyard old Yew trees creak in the wind. It’s a peaceful place.

There you have two Anglican churches, one in the suburbs of Essex the other in the rolling Northamptonshire countryside. One beautiful and one ugly, both almost entirely unused. St Denys has a communion service every second Sunday. Holy Trinity, as you can see from the sign, holds three services on the Sabbath. On all other occasions both churches are shuttered. Understandably they are locked to prevent burglary, but you do have to ask if the dear old Church of England needs quite so much religious real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I’d better come clean. I’m not a praying guy. I was brought up a Christian and while the faith has lapsed, I still see myself as a cultural Christian. I love church architecture, well some of it. If anything bad were to happen to St Denys I’d be mortified and not just because the parents are residents. It is clearly a beautiful place and the residents of Ravensthorpe deserve some beauty in their lives. I still love some of the old hymns I used to sing at school and the King James bible is stuffed with poetry. I’m not some atheist zealot, but what are we to do with all the Churches that scatter the land sitting there empty, waiting for a purpose?

I visit the folks perhaps twice a year and I’ve never once been able to get into the church, which is just as charming on the inside.

Obviously, many churches are deconsecrated and turned into housing, which seems all to the good. But what about the ones with architectural merit that are locked up pretty much 24/7?  Can they be repurposed in some way so that they once again become central to the community they serve? Despite the Church of England’s inherited wealth, I worry that some will just slide into disrepair.

In the UK we have a haul of beautiful churches, there needs to be a national debate as to what to do with them. Anyone got a clue?

In suburbia

In suburbia

We’re getting our house at the Oval SW8 tarted up and have fetched up in the ‘burbs for three months to avoid the dirt and dust of the builders as they go about their business.

Apparently more than 50% of the UK population lives in the suburbs but it’s all new to me. I’ve lived in the centre of London for most of my life.

I’m more of a Zone 1 guy but here we are in Zone 4 way out on the Central Line. More specifically we are holed up in South Woodford. We are Essex.

This is car country. Every driveway is paved and planted with at least two gleaming BMWs. Seeing the power hoses going on a Saturday morning as the good Burghers of Redbridge sluice down their motors must strike fear into the heart of Thames Water. Some houses sport four or more cars out front and there’s some twat who keeps ponsing about in a seasick green Lambo that sets my teeth on edge. Net worth ‘round these parts is judged by your wheels, or lack of them.

I told our next-door neighbour we don’t have a car and she gave me a pitying smile that seemed to indicate that I must be some indigent hippy who would no doubt be knocking on her door later in the week begging for scraps.

We are rammed up close to the North Circular and the M11 which provide an aural backdrop that resembles a constant muted roar. Our house is on the Chigwell Road which also gets busy during rush hour with Mercs and Jags getting to where Merc and Jags must get.

In their song Suburbia the Pet Shop Boys don’t paint a very appealing picture of the place that isn’t city and certainly isn’t country.

‘Let’s take a ride and run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia
You can’t hide, run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia.’

The only dog I get to run with these days is Bucket so I unleashed City Mapper to find the local park where we could both get a bit of exercise.

Bucket and I plus the daughter head out the door, make a right, and walk into Rodding Valley Park. Five minutes into the outing the daughter has already named it Sodding Valley Park. She’s not a great lover of walks.

I’ve subsequently been back many times, in fact barely a day goes past when Bucket and I don’t tale a stroll there. It’s the most extraordinary place both god awful and wonderful in equal measure.

One of our favourite walks is along the Rodding River with its reed beds which are home to nesting birds and various forms of wildlife that city dwellers struggle to name.

Then there are the beautiful Silver Birch woods and the many mature Sycamore, Oak and Beach trees that were obviously chosen with great care by some long-forgotten council planner. Plus there are meadows, the favourite haunt of dog walkers and kids playing football. Sounds heavenly right?

Just one problem, you’ll remember I mentioned the slew of arterial roads near our house, well they all pass directly through Rodding Park with a constant thunder of din and dirt. There are great stanchions that hold up the motorways jutting into our rural idyll and even when you can’t see the traffic there’s no escaping the noise.

Then just to add another nuance, the landscape is littered with electricity pylons. Just walking under them I feel my cells start to mutate.

Along the river there are Blackberry bushes or brambles everywhere thick with ripe black fruit that nobody picks. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the immediate post war generation but I’m from the waste-not-want-not school of thought and would always go out with my mum to pick the free fruit.

In another part of the park the council had planted an orchard with various fruit trees which unfortunately has run to wrack and ruin. I found an apple tree laden with cooking apples which nobody had thought to harvest. Maybe all the pollution coming off the roads puts people off, but I’m looking forward to some Sodding Valley Blackberry and Apple jam sometime soon.

For all its conflicted craziness I’ve grown to love the place and I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years’ time, when we have long forsaken the burbs, if I don’t make a quick trip back to check on how Sodding Valley is doing. It’s a place like no other.

I’ll be revealing more secrets of the seedy underbelly of suburban life as soon as someone lets me know what they are.