Royal battle fleets once anchored here, near the Cinque Ports of Rye and Winchelsea. It’s a peaceful scene today, sheep in green pastures. Behind us as we look towards the passing train, flow the quiet waters of the River Brede, draining the salt marsh which was under the sea in historical times. But why talk about distress here today?
When we walked along the River we found on a willow a memorial tribute to a woman found drowned here, may she rest in peace. It was a special spot for her in life.
The railway is an another place where those in despair end their lives, and as we have seen before, the railway companies have set about suicide prevention in earnest. Now Southern Railway who operate the train seen here have appointed Laura Campbell as suicide prevention officer, a job she describes an a necessity.
All staff are trained to identify someone in distress or vulnerable and how to intervene. She says that more than 300 of her staff have saved lives since 2019. Not every station is staffed, of course, but, she says, fellow passengers should not be afraid to step in and ask, are you OK, thus offering an opening to a different narrative in the distressed fellow traveller.
Half-way through May and this blog has no mention of Mary … not very Catholic! But here she is, in the midst of the Church, such as it was in those days after the Ascension. One of the team.
This picture, shot through clear stained-glass windows, shows us a glimpse, not only of the first Church receiving definitively the Holy Spirit, but also of the noisy, diverse corner of London that St Aloysius’ serves. The church itself stands above street level, an Upper Room, slightly removed from the noise of traffic.
Visitors from many parts call in, perhaps between trains at Euston or Saint Pancras terminals. Find out more about the church and parish here.
I am always happy when I find it open; some people feel uncomfortable in modern churches, but this was designed to celebrate the Vatican II liturgy and brings everyone close to the altar. If you have a few minutes between trains, you too may just find it open! And Mary, filled with the Spirit, ponders all these things in her heart, and unites her Son’s disciples in the Upper Room, be it in Jerusalem or Somers Town.
In recent years Mrs T and I have only seen Peterborough Cathedral from the train. Modern ticketing make it difficult to break a journey for a minipilgrimage or just to stretch your legs. So let’s join Cathedral guide Ann Reynolds as she tells the story of Saint Kyneburgha, who helped found the monastery on this site in AD 653. England and Wales had many redoubtable women church leaders in those times: surely the DNA is still in our women’s veins?
I was looking for more poetry (What you might call ‘free verse’!) to read on my Kindle. Since we’ve used Joyce Kilmer a couple of times, I thought I’d look at some of his writing. This poem, The Twelve-forty-five seems appropriate coming up to Christmas. There were no motor cars on the road then, so people depended on the night train to get home late. Let’s pray for all travellers this Christmas, for those who would like to travel but cannot, and for all who will be apart when they would be together if they could; for those who have died and those left behind: the stars – the angels – are watchful over them.
Upon my crimson cushioned seat, In manufactured light and heat, I feel unnatural and mean. Outside the towns are cool and clean; Curtained awhile from sound and sight They take God’s gracious gift of night. The stars are watchful over them. On Clifton as on Bethlehem The angels, leaning down the sky, Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I — I ride, I blasphemously ride Through all the silent countryside.
What Love commands the train fulfills, And beautiful upon the hills Are these our feet of burnished steel. Subtly and certainly I feel That Glen Rock welcomes us to her And silent Ridgewood seems to stir And smile, because she knows the train Has brought her children back again. We carry people home — and so God speeds us, wheresoe’er we go.
The midnight train is slow and old But of it let this thing be told, To its high honor be it said It carries people home to bed. My cottage lamp shines white and clear. God bless the train that brought me here.
(The Twelve-forty-five, from “Trees and Other Poems” by Joyce Kilmer)
When Mrs T and I were visiting Germany and Poland, we had to change trains in Cologne. Since the Cathedral is right by the railway station and we had two hours to spare, our plan was easily made. And efficiently undermined by a delay on the Eurostar, which led to arriving in Berlin 6 hours late. Jerome K Jerome did visit the Cathedral between trains in 1890. You don’t have to agree with every word he says, any more than I do, but he has some insight into silence.
There is little to be said about a cathedral. Except to the professional sightseer, one is very much like another. Their beauty to me lies, not in the paintings and sculpture they give houseroom to, nor in the bones and bric-à-brac piled up in their cellars, but in themselves—their echoing vastness, their deep silence. Above the little homes of men, above the noisy teeming streets, they rise like some soft strain of perfect music, cleaving its way amid the jangle of discordant notes. Here, where the voices of the world sound faint; here, where the city’s glamour comes not in, it is good to rest for a while—if only the pestering guides would leave one alone—and think.
There is much help in Silence. From its touch we gain renewed life. From contact with it we rise healed of our hurts and strengthened for the fight. Amid the babel of the schools we stand bewildered and affrighted. Silence gives us peace and hope. Silence teaches us no creed, only that God’s arms are around the universe.
How small and unimportant seem all our fretful troubles and ambitions when we stand with them in our hand before the great calm face of Silence! We smile at them ourselves, and are ashamed.
It sounded like something Bottom would say in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Listen’, said our daughter, ‘and you’ll hear the daffodils open’. Was she going virally stir-crazy? No, we listened, and we heard a pop as one of these daffodils burst the brown sheaf of the bud as the petals expanded. Another Laudato Si moment!
I was reminded of sitting in the sunshine, waiting for a tube train at the then beautifully tended Boston Manor tube station, well above ground at this point, and hearing, in the quieter moments between Trident jets descending to Heathrow, the sound of broom pods clicking open in the sunshine. I must have been on my way to see her future mother on a Friday evening after work.
Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.
It was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.
By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.
But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.
Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.
From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.
Abel’s mother and grandmother were both off work on Christmas day, which does not happen every year. Nurses are needed!
Abel was more interested in some other Christmas workers: the Orange Army of railway engineers. Far more interesting than whatever the grown-ups were doing indoors. There were twenty or more workers near his grandparents’ house, renewing track and the level crossing. They had a big crane and an assortment of other machines. After lunch he took grandad out to investigate. One of the men came and talked to us; railway workers are often friendly to youngsters who take an interest in their work.
The man was guarding the level crossing and two machines, including this one, caught in the last of the sun. Let it stand for all those working this Christmas, on the railway or in other ways, to make life better for the rest of us.
Now four years old, Abel was enchanted when he came to the miniature railway at Bettws-y-coed.* Since he was tiny, unable to walk or speak in words, his fascination with trains has been clear. He would lean in the direction of his local station when being pushed home in his pram, hoping to direct his mother thither.
Full sized trains go places and can be sorted by colour and shape, but they are formidably big. One day a train that grandfather cannot sit upright in turned out to be the right size for Abel. Most of the elements of a railway were in evidence: rails, steam and diesel locos, signals, points, level crossings and bells. Abel felt aggrieved when the signal was red as he passed it, but relaxed when he observed the next light change from green to red as the locomotive pulled the carriages by. I can remember my father explaining this very phenomenon to me on the approach to Birmingham New Street!
Abel was quite right to be concerned. Partly because he likes things to be correct, but also he is aware of the dangers of level crossings and other parts of the railway. His toy trains often crash and rescue services swiftly descend upon the scene.
Despite the inherent dangers, a well-run railway is safe; disciplined staff know their jobs and do them well, thoughtfully rather than mechanically.
A disciplined life is open to the grace that gets us through many dangers, toils and snares, and grace will lead us safely home. All Aboard!
I was leaving a railway station when the Samaritans’ placard caught my eye: it was fastened to the railing at the top of the footbridge, so that everyone could see it as they climbed. A mental ‘thumbs-up’ to them from me!
The following day, on the rails again, I turned my tickets over to find two different messages from the Samaritans. Notice the slogan, ‘small talk saves lives.‘ The life of an individual human being is small when set against the whole of Creation, but it is all that that person knows, through their own direct experience or through conversation, reading, viewing or listening: their one life is the big thing for them, with sensations and experiences arriving constantly from all sides, not all of them welcome, some of them overwhelming.
If a beloved feels overwhelmed, it’s a big thing for those who care for them. So big that they too may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do or say.
So perhaps Jesus was right to tell us to ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:28) Small things, small talk. There was heather encroaching on the Yorkshire station; lovely purple flowers, but too far away on the opposite platform for me to catch the scent and comment on it to a fellow passenger.
On the return journey two sisters and their four teenaged children were on the train, talking about everything and nothing: small talk that meant nothing and everything. Another advert proclaimed that ‘I love you’ is one of the hardest things to say; but every word and gesture in this group announced that message loud and clear.
Even small words are not always needed. I had a profound experience on an underground train soon after a terrorist attack. I found myself standing next to a British Transport policeman. He was very tired, and had seen I know not what. Not a word was spoken, no gesture, no touch, but I prayed in my heart. When he got off he said, Thank You, and disappeared into the night.