Tag Archives: London

4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.

ossyrianfire

Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

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23 January: Church Unity Week, Behind this door …

 

.archivegarage

Behind this garage door is a garage, as you might expect, but this is London, where you can expect the unexpected.

In this case, the archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster. There’s a postern within the door that a researcher can be let through, then past the car and into a warm welcome from the archivists.

Public Domain, via Wikipedia

The archives hold material from well before the Archdiocese came into being in 1850, including works of Bishop Richard Challoner, 1691-1781, who was Bishop in London when Catholics still were not supposed to exist, so he lived and worked in secret, ever in danger of arrest or attack. He wrote extensively for his flock, including a catechism, a revision of the Douay Bible translation, and the Garden of the Soul, a prayer book designed for people who had to live for long periods without the Sacraments or a priest visiting.

In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, let us thank God for the freedom to worship enjoyed in Britain today, and pray for those Christians elsewhere who may not worship as their conscience and loyalty lead them to.

Here is a page from the Garden, describing how to start the day. Not bad advice at all, though parents may feel it’s not entirely practical! It’s the coffee after they’ve left the house that allows a moment of morning offering for some of us; but read on!

Challoner p17.

MMB.

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31 October: Christ walking with travellers: Human trafficking 3.

car-lights

Local Response to Human Trafficking

Taken from the Santa Marta Group  website   The Santa Marta Group brings the Church and Police together to combat Human trafficking. Here is an example provided by the United Kingdom (UK): Bakhita House.

In the UK today there are around 14,000 people in modern slavery, and over 50% of those people are trafficked through London.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has put into place a local response to combat the scourge of human trafficking – the Bakhita Initiative. It’s a forward-thinking and influential national anti-trafficking hub.

A collaborative approach, the Bakhita Initiative has focused on strengthening partnerships between law enforcement agencies and those involved in working with those who have been trafficked.

In the UK, this has involving the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the London Metropolitan Police, Catholic religious communities, and other support agencies.

A key element of the initiative is Caritas Bakhita House – a ‘triage’ centre for the emergency placement of women escaping human trafficking and its function will be to support the beginnings of the restorative process.

Victims of Trafficking

Caritas Bakhita House aims to tackle the devastating consequences of human trafficking by providing those victims who are most vulnerable and traumatised with the safety and support to begin the process of recovery and rehabilitation.

Bakhita House offers emergency support, psychosexual therapy, legal and financial assistance, mentoring, and help with accessing accommodation. Women will also have access to education and employment opportunities.

Women who are supported by Caritas Bakhita House will benefit from these values and principles of action:

Love – expressed in compassionate support and long term commitment

Respect – for the gift and dignity of each individual

Community – a welcome which creates friendship and belonging

Spirituality – nurtured by that Joy in creative activity which lifts the spirit

Caritas Bakhita House is owned by the Archdiocese of Westminster and managed by Caritas Westminster. Bakhita House has been made possible through our partnerships with the Bishops’ Conference, the Metropolitan Police Anti-Trafficking Unit, the Congregation of Adoratrices, local parishes, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.

John Coleby, Director of Caritas Westminster, says:

“Caritas Bakhita House is part of a unique partnership between the Catholic Church and the Metropolitan Police to support victims of trafficking and modern slavery…

“Through working with international, national and local Catholic networks, this project will make visible the universal solidarity which exists among Catholics and other people of goodwill who wish to rid the world of this crime.”

Caritas Bakhita House opened on 30 June 2015.

 

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September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

chris-preaching

Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

car-lights

Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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August 18: An Appreciation of Francis Thompson by W.H. Davies.

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Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.

In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?

Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies

Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see
In every street the windows’ light:
Dragging thy limbs about all night,
No window kept a light for thee.

However much thou wert distressed,
Or tired of moving, and felt sick,
Thy life was on the open deck—
Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest.

Thy barque was helpless ‘neath the sky,
No pilot thought thee worth his pains
To guide for love or money gains—
Like phantom ships the rich sailed by.

Thy shadow mocked thee night and day,
Thy life’s companion, it alone;
It did not sigh, it did not moan,
But mocked thy moves in every way.

In spite of all, the mind had force,
And, like a stream whose surface flows
The wrong way when a strong wind blows,
It underneath maintained its course.

Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower
Too late for good, as some bruised tree
That blooms in Autumn, and we see
Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour.

Some poets feign their wounds and scars.
If they had known real suffering hours,
They’d show, in place of Fancy’s flowers,
More of Imagination’s stars.

So, if thy fruits of Poesy
Are rich, it is at this dear cost—
That they were nipt by Sorrow’s frost,
In nights of homeless misery.

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August 9: Francis Thompson VIII: The Kingdom of God.

crosscave2

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Harrowhell

And the Thames was filthy in Edwardian times. But Christ ventured to Hell itself to rescue those held there.

Thompson’s editor, Wifrid Meynell wrote:

This Poem (found among his papers when he died) Francis Thompson might yet have worked upon to remove, here a defective rhyme, there an unexpected elision. But no altered mind would he have brought to its main purport; and the prevision of ‘Heaven in Earth and God in Man’ pervading his earlier published verse, we find here accented by poignantly local and personal allusions. For in these triumphing stanzas, he held in retrospect those days and nights of human dereliction he spent beside London’s River, and in the shadow – but all radiance to him – of Charing Cross.

See also our post of June 23rd 2017, Shared Table VI.

 

 

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3 June: E is for East End of London

commerical road

‘You turn by this big Catholic Church’, my son told his mother who was to pick him up from the flat he’d been living in over the summer. ‘That’s where I was baptised’, I said. ‘Limehouse’ is on my birth certificate, and you can’t get more East End than that. More East End than Walford, and on a quiet night, you can hear Bow Bells. Is there ever a quiet night?

Mother, aged 18, had joined Dad at Saint Mary and Saint Michael’s parish where he was running the Boys’ Club, and a whole new world was opening before her eyes. Across the street was the Mosque with whom they were on friendly terms;  there were many synagogues within walking distance. It was by no means just Jewish people who had landed in this dockland parish from across Europe and around the world.

A Frenchwoman took her under her wing to negotiate the local markets and learn to cook exotic dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese; yes, this was 1948-50! She experienced great solidarity from the Jewish and Italian traders who understood about beginning a new life in unfamiliar surroundings. Somehow the portions she received from Mrs Guazzelli in  her café were that little more generous than the ration books might require. She learned from her friend how to buy wisely on the street market.

Another friend, my Godmother, kept in touch with me and my parents till her death. She was East End English Catholic all the way through.

My parents had to leave Stepney while I was still a toddler, happily watching the largely horse-drawn traffic on Commercial Road. I remember nothing of my time there, but living in the East End opened my parents’ eyes to other, quite  different ways of life that good people were following in good faith. Some of their openness has rubbed off onto their children. May we continue to spread it.

MMB.

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28 September – William Blake’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’

William Blake, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, c.1799-1807. Pen and grey ink and watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Image released under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

 

William Blake’s (1757-1827) watercolour of Jacob’s Ladder is one of about eighty watercolours which Blake made between about 1800 and 1806 for his loyal patron, the civil servant Thomas Butts (more of Blake’s works for Butts follow in tomorrow and Friday). In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a staircase between heaven and earth with figures ascending and descending on it.

 

We do not know the precise date of this watercolour, but it may well have been inspired by a vision which Blake had shortly after he moved from London to Felpham, West Sussex in 1800, which he described in a poem addressed to Ann Flaxman, wife of the sculptor John Flaxman:

 

Away to Sweet Felpham for Heaven is there

The Ladder of Angels descends thro the air

On the Turret its spiral does softly descend

Thro’ the village then winds at My Cot it does end

You stand in the village & look up to heaven

The precious stones glitter on flights seventy seven

And My Brother is there & My Friend & Thine

Descend & Ascend with the Bread & the Wine

(‘To my dear Friend Mrs Anna Flaxman’)

 

The poem suggests that Blake felt that there was a connection between heaven and earth in Felpham. Having only known the smoggy air of London for the first 43 years of his life, one can well imagine that Blake felt that the veil between heaven and earth was thinner in Felpham – the kind of place one might encounter angels.

 

NAIB

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26 September: A walk along the Thames.

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It was Patrick’s funeral that brought me to Teddington, and I had time on my hands between the end of the gathering  and meeting George for dinner.  Time enough for a walk down the Thames to Richmond.

Here the river path is on the right bank, but there was a footbridge at the end of Ferry Road to see me across. A good hour’s walk down to the railway with no bridges between, though I was tempted to take the ferry across to Twickenham about halfway along. Just for the fun of a ferry, you understand, not to avoid the walk!

It was good to see so many people and dogs enjoying the fine weather, walking and cycling; there were joggers as well, but do they enjoy the scenery or just the sense of achievement when they have shorn a half-second from their pb for each kilometre, despite the presence of happy wanderers along their course? Some children were enjoying the last days of summer, but there were teenagers in town already in uniform –

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy.

William Wordsworth: Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood

London’s not-quite countryside must remain as a blessing to local people; it is too much on the flood plain to be built upon or to go under the plough. Much of the path was shaded by mature trees and scrub. There would be no chance of a horse-drawn barge making its way along here today, as came to Mr Toad’s rescue in the  Wind in the Willows, but motor boats and kayaks were making full use of the river.

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Close to Richmond town lies a meadow, still used to graze cattle, including a few Belted Galloways and their crossbred offspring. If I had a country estate it would be Belted Galloways that would add their grace to the prospects. As well as being good looking, they also seem to tolerate people walking by.

But let’s hope and pray that  those I passed that day will not resist the ‘Intimations of immortality’ that come their way, day by day, and that school does not feel too much of a prison house, and that they are enlightened there.

WT.

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August 10: Perspectives, Natural or Medieval

horse.selfie (2)

Horses often come to us looking for attention. They have been taught to act in a domesticated and even submissive way. Perhaps they invented the idea of selfies before humans did! It possibly did not occur to them what situations of great harm and distress they would enter into as a result, having to bear men in heavy armour hoisted onto their backs, and to trample through landscapes of churned up mud and slaughtered  bodies, human and animal.

Not all medieval attitudes towards animals were caring and patient by any means. At an early stage, women as well as men realised the extra leverage over their neighbours could be gained by saddling a horse and fitting themselves out with swords, spears and regular violent training.

Boudicca

We may sometimes be inclined to sympathise, as when an invading army has better resources and equipment. The Iceni led by Boadicea (Boudicca) had only local knowledge as their advantage over the empire-building Romans. Both sides were pagans, so we can’t hide behind loyalties to a Christian tradition to explain why we would side with one or the other.

Presumably it is just the romance of seeing a vulnerable yet brave underdog militia up, against a drilled and remorseless invader which makes us pleased to see a stirring statue of Boudicca in her chariot on the London embankment. Romance favours heroism, without much in the way of challenging self-awareness to question the means that are employed to win the day. Faith in the Lord Jesus who died for love of enemies is dimmed.

CD

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