The weekend before my trip to UK was much the same as any other. I planned to leave for UK during the Monday evening so there was just time for a morning funeral, packing and a final jar at Charann’s before boarding an uber taxi to the airport.
The journey was uneventful and I reached Gatwick at about 9am and collected the hire car. Driving on the correct side of the road was tricky at first, as was also recalling which pedals were which. I’d been in an automatic for the past year or so.
I found my way to New Malden by 1030am and by noon I was in bed! I awoke in time to greet my brother Richard and his fiancée Camille. We had a fine meal en famille. The following day I too mum for lunch at Carluccios and then did a bit of shopping myself. In the evening I met up with brother Chris in a pub. We had Skype connection problems almost every time we tried to speak so it was great to meet up again unencumbered by technical issues.
On Thursday I arose at 5am and by 5.30am was on the road to Shrewsbury Abbey for the funeral of my musical friend and mentor Bill Hayward. The M40 was closed further up so I had to journey on the M1. I got the Abbey by 1030 and adjourned to a nearby breakfast place for a last-minute of the eulogy had prepared. The funeral was at 1.30pm and the Abbey was full. I bumped into Roger Latimer, Timothy Ault and Iain Nisbett from St George’s College Choir days. Brian, an old RCM friend of Bill’s, was at the organ playing music by his teacher Herbert Howells. Russell Watson sang Panis Angelicus. The emotion overtook him but it was still good prayer. I spoke after Russell. I spoke for about 25 minutes. I introduced my eulogy by stating that if you tried to praise Bill during his life he would have cut you short, so I was taking advantage of his death to sing his praises.
Folk were kind afterwards and said that I’d summed up the man with respect and humour. Even the funeral directors were surprised to enjoy it!
There was a reception after the service but I left at 4.30pm to journey further north to Sheffield. I arrived in good time to dump my bags at a friend’s house and continue to a Memorial Mass for a dear priest who had supported me when I was going through the redundancy process. I met more familiar faces at that reception and then joined neighbours Andrew and Ruth for a night cap.
The following day, Friday, I entered my house with the lettings agents. My tenants were there too and I was delighted with the state of the place. I retrieved some books, music and mail and went on my way within the hour. My next stop was the Pastoral Centre of the Diocese where I met with Ed Whittaker. Ed had always been a good and gracious colleague so it must have been awkward for him to head up the redundancy process for me. This meeting presented an opportunity to resume relationships on what is now a happier footing. then I dropped in on Sheila, the Bishop’s Secretary and had a good chat with the new Bishop Ralph who is also Bishop of Gibraltar!
At 1245 I walked through the door of the cathedral I had served for so long where a number of my friends had gathered for Mass. the priest was a visitor and his theology was completely unsound. He tried to convince the congregation that all imperfection is sin. I thought of my friend Brian who is blind and wondered what he made of this rubbish!
After Mass several of my friends took me to lunch at M&S after which I searched the Music Room for a piece of music which had eluded those I’d previously asked to find it. I found it immediately … Carmen’s filing system was still working!
At 5pm I attended a Family Group Meeting of the Iona Community at Jenie Lismore’s. It was great to see the gang again and especially Peter Coats. After the meeting at 8pm Peter and I who were staying the night sat down with Jenie and hit the red wine I’d brought with me. We adjourned for bed some time after 2am!
I awoke around 9am and, after essential medical treatment, drove into Sheffield where I dropped Peter before visiting Greg Ryan and later Inderjit and Cathy Bhogal. During the afternoon I met up with my friend Kevin and we visited some old haunts for beer and the inevitable whiskey. At 5pm I met the Pitsmoor gang of friends at the Sheffield Tap. In addition to the gang was also Annette who now lives in Australia but is over for a month. I had to confess that she must spend more time in the sun than I! We ate at Wagamama’s (not my favourite place) and after a few more beers and a diversion to see Peter’s new house I hit the sack.
On Sunday I drove back to New Malden via Leicester where I grabbed a tea and chat with Emily Walker. It was early evening when I pulled into mum’s place. There had been some hold ups on the M25!
I spent Monday morning with mum and then went up to London to meet Bernadette Farrell for lunch. It was great to hear her news and her relief that her daughter is now in remission. I had only just got off the train at New Malden when the phone rang. It was Terri Coyle inviting me to meet her in Turnham Green. I spent a further hour or so with mum and then I was off. we met in a local pub and then adjourned to her house. It took some convincing but in the end I relented and opted for more wine and a taxi home. It was 3.30am when I crossed the threshold!
On Tuesday I had agreed to meet Richard and Camille at their new flat in Guildford before driving to Southampton where I would spend the night with my brother Pete, his wife Gill and daughters. They are all bonkers but, fortunately, did not keep the same hours as my friends!
On Wednesday I stopped at St Mary’s University to meet up with Martin Foster from Bishops’ Conference, Liturgy Office. My visit coincided with an Christian Unity Week Service which I decided to attend. The visiting organist was a little crusty and spend the time complaining about the music, the organ, the so-called university and the demise of pipe organs in UK. Her saving grace must have been her availability!
Leading the service I was delighted to see Mgr Rod Strange who until recently was Rector of the Beda Seminary in Rome. I had spent some days with him in Shrewsbury Diocese some years back where I had led a post Easter School with Gerry Hughes SJ (RIP). While he was at the Beda I had sent him my setting of Bede’s ‘Christ is the Morning Star’ prayer. He recalled it instantly and the moment when it had been spontaneously sung by seminarians at the visit of Pope John Paul II. I was also delighted to chat briefly with Mgr Tony Boylan with whom I had worked in the Northern Dioceses Liturgical Consultation.
Martin and I adjourned to the Pope’s Grotto for a pint and some lunch. (thanks, Martin) . Ten I was back with mum during the afternoon. In the evening mum and I went around the corner to brother Chris and Sue’s for dinner. Chris prepared an excellent fillet steak meal and some great chat. It was after 11pm when we left. This was too early for my mum who kept me supplied with G&T until after almost 3am when I decided I could no longer keep up and retired.
When I surfaced the following midday (!) I did a bit of shopping in New Malden and then brought home a pizza as mum had decided against eating out. Not a drop of alcohol passed our lips and it was early to bed for mum and slightly later for me so that I could enjoy Question Time.
The following morning I left mum at 8am and was in Gatwick by 9am to return the car and hopefully get through security to take full advantage of the Lounge I had booked the previous evening. I did and stumbled on to the plane around 1230. I didn’t sleep at all on board so the lounge bar theory didn’t work and I continued with a regime of more brandy and films. I managed to clear customs at Tampa remarkably quickly and reached my apartment in time to join residents at a wine and cheese evening. Then I slept!
Saturday began with a funeral at 1030am after which I visited the supermarket to buy food etc and have lunch. By 3pm I was back I work for the usual weekend round of Masses. It was almost 9pm when I entered Charann’s after 2 weeks absence. It was good to be home again!