So they closed St Paul’s. For the first time since the Second World War, you and I (and thousands of tourists) cannot walk through the doors of this great Cathedral to sightsee (£14.50), or attend a service (free). You probably also know why: it’s because of the risk posed to visitors by the enormous and unruly mob of Occupy LSX protesters who have set up camp, obstructing access to the Cathedral and causing fire and health and safety risks.
Come on. All together. Everyone can find something to tut-tut about in that scenario. “Not since the war!” you could cry indignantly. “Who do they think they are?” or how about… “Why don’t they get jobs instead of wasting tax-payers’ money?” or “What about the church? They’re losing £20,000 a day! Don’t the protesters care about that?”
I thought some of those things too. But then I thought some more, and I decided that I couldn’t have an opinion on something I haven’t researched or seen. So two-year-old Ted and I hopped on the Tube and went to have a look for ourselves. We came out at St Paul’s station and walked around the South side, where the camp is, towards the front of the Cathedral. The first thing we saw was an orderly row of tents, close to the wall of the Cathedral and away from the footpath. There was a white tent with a sign on it that read “Legal”. A little further along, we saw a First Aid tent, then the Food tent, and further neat rows of the small one- and two-man tents you see at festivals. Further round towards the front of the Cathedral, there was a big, open tent marked “Information”.
There were more elements to the camp: a “University”, offering lectures and discussions, with a special programme for 8-18-year-olds for half-term. A library where people could share literature. A worship tent where people of all faiths could meditate or pray. A board posted outside the Information tent offered an hour-by-hour programme of events, discussions and meetings.
But what are the protesters all doing? Sitting around? Smoking dope? Smashing shop windows and looting trainers? No. the exact opposite. Everyone in the camp is eager to talk to people who come in and happy to grant interviews to journalists. There is a zero tolerance policy for drug use, no alcohol is allowed in the camp and I have no doubt violence would not be tolerated either. I met a man who was handing out copies of a document listing some of the protesters’ aims. As he said, “We don’t have a manifesto, and there are many people with different agendas, but we’re trying to find core ideas and suggestions for solutions together.” You can see his document here.
And the health and safety risks? The footpath was clear. Every entrance to St Paul’s was freely accessible. There were no protesters on the stairs of the Cathedral that I could see: just the usual cluster of weary tourists having a brief sit-down.
Access to the side doors had been demarcated with metal barriers, which the protesters had decorated with art, posters and bible verses. The camp was extremely orderly, and very, very tidy. There were no gas stoves, open fires or barbecues. All hot food was being prepared in clean and professional conditions in the food tent. I didn't see a scrap of litter, although there was a well organised and clearly marked set of recycling bins.
To my mind, the risk to public safety appeared to be… nil. There were a lot of people, granted. But there are always a lot of people at St Paul’s. If we are to start closing down public areas in London because there are a lot of people, then sorry, Holborn and Oxford Circus, you’re first on the list, and we’ll be working through Zone One alphabetically from there.
I went to chat to the people in the Information tent and ask them about the closure of the Cathedral. The Dean of the Cathedral sent them an open letter which cites “the legal requirements placed upon us by fire, health and safety issues”. The organisers say they were given a set of concerns by the fire department and the police and they reorganised the camp to comply with every one of the conditions. So far, the Cathedral has refused to define exactly what the further concerns which have forced the closure might be. “The priests and the canons have all been wonderful to us,” said the man in the Information tent. “The pressure is coming from the lay people who run St Paul’s… the money people.” No one seemed to know who exactly that might be, or even if that is true: all the official statements are coming from Graeme Knowles, the Dean, who is far from being a lay person. It is mildly interesting that the Lay Canon in charge of finance is one Gavin Ralston, whose biography on the St Paul’s website reads: “As Lay Canon (Finance) Gavin Ralston holds particular responsibility for finance at St Paul's Cathedral. He is Global Head of Product and leading international asset manager at Schroder Investment Management. He holds the role of Lay Canon in addition to his position at Schroders.” I don’t know much about economics, but he doesn’t sound like a bloke who would be likely to be sympathetic to an anti-banking, anti-capitalist agenda.
We spent an hour or so wandering around the camp. Wherever we went, people were very welcoming. A motley crowd gathered and sang a mangled and tuneless version of “Amazing Grace” with great gusto. Ted and I visited the nearby Tesco and came back with a small donation for the food tent. “Thank you so much,” said the man warmly, accepting our potatoes and soya milk, “Please join us for some soup.” It’s possibly the friendliest place in London. The contrast couldn’t have been starker when we walked to Bank station to come home. As I struggled down the steps carrying Ted in his pushchair, a man in a suit huffed and elbowed me out of the way in his rush to reach the lifts.
This evening, the Guardian reports that the Cathedral may seek an injunction to force the protesters to move. As they rightly say, the sight of police officers dragging peaceful protesters from the shadow of a Cathedral would be a PR nightmare. But it’s so much sadder than that. Above all, St Paul’s is the house of God: the premier house of God in this great city. I spent some time this morning before we went to St Paul’s, reading what Jesus had to say about money and our relationship with it. As you probably know, he said a lot, all of it uncompromising. Try this: Luke 16:13 – "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Jesus repeatedly said that we should reject riches on earth in favour of spiritual wealth, and that we should do our best to care for those who are in need. As we looked up at the great, wooden closed doors of St Paul’s Cathedral, I couldn’t help thinking that if Jesus were there, I think I know which side of the doors he would be on.
Home is a funny, emotive word. What is your home? The address you currently inhabit? Your spiritual home? The place you come from?
In a visceral way, my parents’ house in Johannesburg will always be one kind of “home” to me, because I lived there for the longest time and it’s where I grew up. Beyond that, I have felt more and less attached to the various houses and flats I’ve lived in over the years, depending on the circumstances. Mostly, I think a house or a flat is just a place to keep your worldly goods… as comedian George Carlin says, “A pile of stuff with a cover on it”. It isn’t necessarily “home”. I’m also not a big fan of nationalism, or of fanatical identification with a place because of tribal history, so South Africans who have lived in the UK for decades and still call South Africa “home” even when they have no intention of returning there permanently, tend to get my goat. So where does that leave me? If I don’t know what my home is, am I rootless? Without identity? Is that a bad thing? Those are all fabulously open-ended and rhetorical questions, and I hasten to tell you I haven’t a clue what the answers are.
All I know is this. I realised yesterday that there is a building that feels truly like home to me. Nearly ten years ago, a friend invited us to her daughter’s confirmation at the local church and we went along. I was struck by how good the choir was, and my friend introduced me to a friend of hers who sang in the choir, and before I knew it, I was signed up to attend a practice the following Tuesday evening.
Since then, I have spent hundreds, no, make that thousands of hours in that church. I’ve sung countless services and concerts there, I’ve been a part of insanely ambitious productions, including one where I played the Devil in a red business suit and bondage heels and frightened the Bishop. I’ve stood on the roof at 4am on the Summer Solstice and watched the sun come up. I’ve swept every corner of it and cleaned the loo. I’ve attended weddings and funerals, seen babies born, baptised and grow up. My own children were baptised in the 900-year-old font. It was in that church (and for the life of me I can’t remember the exact occasion), that I got my first glimpse of the man who would become my best friend and my love. And it was in that church that Matt walked me up the aisle to marry that man.
There are two ways of defining “church”… the building itself, and the people inside it. Let’s begin with the people. I’ve made friends that I know will be with me for the rest of my life: friends who have shown such kindness and generosity I will never be able to repay them. Like any group of people gathered for a common purpose, they’re a motley lot: old, young, educated, a bit rough around the edges, tolerant, intolerant, funny, scary and downright barking. But all of them have come through the door with one purpose, however clearly or fuzzily they are able to define it. They have come to look for more. They have come to be more, be better people, to give thought to the way they live and move through the world. And they come to give.
A friend once said that she liked her children to come to church because they would grow up seeing that people could be generous and selfless with their skills. There are so, so many talented people there who give hours and hours of their time and skills for free: musicians, flower-arrangers, organisers, caterers, even accountants and IT specialists, and those who sweep, hoover and polish in the church every week and garden in the churchyard. They sustain the church so it keeps going, and they give to the outside world, in charity, in community activities, and, I hope, by example.
Then there’s the building, as higgledy-piggledy as its inhabitants. The oldest parts of the church, on the North side, are hundreds and hundreds of years old. Then there are newer bits, from the Victorian pews to the organ, refurbished in 2000. I shan’t bore you with the history, but there’s a fair bit: the odd celebrity buried here and there, a Green Man hidden by ancient craftsmen in the woodwork of the ceiling, a grave-robbing scandal and more. For a girl from an upstart mining town (Johannesburg was founded in 1886), a building with that weight of history delights me.
There’s been a church on that site for 1,000 years, and it was a pagan sun worship site before that. Imagine all the people who have stood or sat or kneeled there, talking to their God. Those stones, that earth, have for all those centuries been drenched in prayer. Words of suffering and hope, contemplation, repentance, love… they’re built into the fabric of the building, the stones I walk on, the trees in the churchyard, the air I breathe when I go there. I believe in the power of the words, and there is no doubt that powerful words have been spoken there, over and over for centuries. And I can feel it.
So what is it that I feel there? Is it God? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that for a few weeks now, I’ve been battling a nameless feeling of fear and disquiet, an irrational dark mood I just haven’t been able to shake. Until yesterday when, in the happy chaos of the Harvest Festival, among the yelling children, the music and the amusingly shaped vegetables, I felt my mood lift, just a little. Just enough to know that ultimately, things would be okay. I haven’t quite made it to the peace that passes all understanding, but I think I got a step closer. It feels like coming home.
Two-year-old Ted is at that age where he’s gaining language incredibly fast, so he repeats pretty much everything he hears. He understands an enormous amount, so will often use a phrase correctly, although they’re often more adult expressions than you’d expect a two-year-old to choose. Occasionally, he has comes out with something a great deal more adult than I’d like to hear from his perfect little rosebud mouth. We’re very careful about our language, but, it would appear, not always careful enough.
Earlier in the week, Ted and I went to Brent Cross shopping centre to indulge in what we like to call post-recession-environmentally-responsible shopping: ie, going into the Early Learning Centre and playing with all the toys we have no intention of buying. He found a little ride-on car, sat astride it, then waved his arms flamboyantly in the air and yelled “Come on, people, I haven’t got all day!”
I’ve dined out on the story all week: I posted it as a facebook status and everyone thought it was hilarious. Nevertheless, at the time, a tiny little part of me cringed and died. You see, there can be only one person he learned that from. Tom works all week and seldom drives when we’re all together. So my precious baby is learning road rage from me. It’s very disheartening, because I’ve always thought I was quite a calm driver – very patient, very Zen about being stuck in traffic, but it seems from the little parrot/ mirror who is my constant companion, that’s not true. I suppose, when I think about it, I do hate dawdlers, stupid people who drive four-by-fours they can neither steer nor park, people who don’t know where they’re going and stop-start along the road, people who tailgate when I’m going at the speed limit, people who don’t indicate on roundabouts, the infernal plague of learner drivers who use our quiet road to practise their £$%^&ing three-point turns, not to mention… er, well. Maybe I’m not so Zen after all.
With that in mind, I felt my heart sink when Action for Happiness pointed out this fascinating article about what makes a good parent. It’s not another fluffy opinion piece in a parenting magazine, it’s a serious study by a noted psychologist, published in Scientific American. I can’t begin to understand the details of how they gathered the information, but it seems that they studied the outcomes of multiple parenting studies to work out the ten key predictors for producing happy, successful children. Number one, unsurprisingly, is love and affection. But number two and three on the list actually have little or nothing to do with the child… they are the parent’s ability to manage their own stress, and the parent’s ability to maintain a healthy relationship with their co-parent.
When I think about it, it doesn’t surprise me at all that parents’ stress management is so important, because I remember being a child myself. In hindsight I would say my parents, particularly my father, were very poor at managing stress. In traumatic situations, he tended to freak out and yell. I remember, as a small child, that awful feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach if something went wrong, even if it had nothing to do with me, like a car breakdown. Children are so egotistical, they think everything is about them, and as an extension, that everything bad that happens in their world is their fault. As I got older, I found that it was easier to hide things from my father. He would be the last person I would turn to if I was in trouble, because
I knew his response to difficulty would make things worse, not better.
When I had Ted, more than 16 years after I had my first child, many people said to me, “Well, of course it’ll be easier this time around. You’re so much more mature, so much more patient.” Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve had 16 more years of adult life, and, since Matt became more self-sufficient, lots of years of autonomy, freedom and a successful career. I’m definitely less flexible and (as is shown by my driving style), utterly without patience. Parenting is often about loss of control, especially about things like time management, standards of tidiness, and whether you get to meet that freelance deadline or not, because there are books to be read aloud, Lego towers to be built and stickers to be stuck. It seems that for Ted’s happiness (and my own blood pressure), I’ll have to learn to be better at managing my stress when things don’t move at my usual breakneck pace, or run as smoothly as I hoped.
Do read the article: it’s fascinating, not least because it debunks all sorts of stereotypes. Ethnicity and age are not significant in making good parents. Gay parents rate slightly better than straight parents (although he says that’s not statistically significant, it did make me utter a big fat “Hah!” for all the fantastic gay parents I know who have faced prejudice). And raising children to be autonomous and independent is as important, if not more, than obsessing about their safety. Right. I’m off to meditate in a dark room while Ted cooks dinner.
It’s been an interesting old year for the press, hasn’t it? From the super injunction row to the phone hacking scandal, we’ve had plenty of cause to wonder whether the media’s lovely feet are maybe, well, a little bit clay-y, if you know what I mean.
It can’t be easy to be a newspaper/TV station/website in this day and age. Everyone is hyper-connected: online, on their phones, on TV. They’re hungry for news, and they want lots of it, and immediately. You need to produce the goods, you need it out now, and you need an angle no one else has. It’s a super-competitive game. Anyone who saw the Daily Mail’s frankly disgraceful faux pas yesterday will know how that can go wrong. Awaiting the Amanda Knox appeal verdict, they had prepared two front page stories: “guilty” and “not guilty” versions. Unfortunately, someone pressed a button too early and the “guilty” version went live before the verdict was announced. You can see some choice quotes from it here. It’s amazing how they were able to foresee the response of her family and even what the prosecutors would say…. In a situation THAT NEVER HAPPENED.
The press have been caught short in this way a few times recently, writing “profiles” on people arrested for a crime they were later found not to have committed. Here’s a fascinating one on Rebecca Leighton, a nurse arrested in Salford for allegedly contaminating saline solution and killing patients, and since freed without charge. According to this cutting-edge profile, written using that well-known journalistic technique of “nicking images and statuses from someone’s facebook profile and then making stuff up”, we learn Rebecca was “a heavy smoker whose favourite tipple is rosé wine”. Horrifyingly, she also posted on facebook, “"I'm a happy, lucky kinda girl, loves the weekends (if I'm not working) and having a laugh with the people that I call friends for a reason." This clearly shows us that she is not to be trusted, and likes to knock pensioners off given the opportunity. An unnamed source said so, so it must be true.
All of this made me think. Who knows what the future holds for me? I might get done for a high-profile crime, or be embroiled in a scandal involving Peter Crouch, a bucket of honey and an octopus. I may be too busy for interviews then, so I thought I’d save the press some time, and write my own profile. I’ve plundered my facebook pics, and written appropriate captions to show you the “real Rosie”. Apologies to the friends and family featured in any of the pictures, your identity will not be revealed (except for Matt, sorry), and I stress that anything anyone reads below this line is entirely fictitious. Or is it?
Notorious party girl Fiore weaves a web with her words
Sultry wordsmith Rosie Fiore, recently implicated in the appalling cephalopod scandal, has a hidden past, it has been revealed.
The copywriter and mother-of-two is known to many as “Rosie the Raver”, a source close to her told us. She loves the champagne lifestyle, and will stop at nothing to have a good time.
“Rosie the Raver”, seen here with a friend, exploits a young worker in Oxford,
forcing him to row her up and down while she swills her favourite tipple
“She’s always been a tricky one,” says a long-term friend. “She was in a gang when she was younger. They dressed as construction workers and intimidated people with building tools and cruel word jokes.”
Fiore’s gang is seen here, adopting a threatening pose to terrorise a rival faction.
Despite being married, Fiore’s romantic life is chequered. “She goes like a train,” said an unnamed source, “No man is safe from her rapacious sexual appetite.”
She is seen above cosying up to two different unnamed men, and below, indulging in a bizarre sex game with another man and a woman. None of the men in these pictures are her long-suffering husband, who was unavailable for comment.
Her children suffer the brunt of her thoughtless wild lifestyle too: she is pictured here, drunk and insensible, being held up by her innocent son. “Often, she leaves me alone for hours at a time to fend for myself,” nineteen-year-old Matt allegedly told a friend. “I have to make my own toast and everything.”
But is she really the woman who got down and dirty with Crouch at the aquarium? “There’s no smoke without fire,” said sources close to the Fiore camp. “There’s no doubt that if there was a seven-foot footballer, an eight-legged sea creature and a bucket of something sticky, Rosie would be first in line to be involved. She’s always quick to make a move.”
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.