Thursday, December 06, 2012

15.9.68 - St Alban's and a second cousin


This great photo appears on a blog by
Jeremiah Watt.  It gives some impression of
St Alban's beauty. 
Dear Mum, England is at present having the sort of floods we had earlier this year – great chaos, but not where either the Crowls or I live.  I rang Kiri tonight, but she’s a victim of the floods and is still down south somewhere according to Ann Gordon, who was at K’s place.  They’re going to let me know tomorrow. Well, I went out to Woodland Way yesterday, and started the stay off with dinner!  Then we went on our projected tour of St Albans – this time Nina, Mavis’ sister wasn’t with us, but was looking after someone sick.  We got to St A’s (by the way, the town of St A’s is very attractive, it hasn't been too spoilt with lots of new blocks but retains its nineteenth and earlier century charms) and went in and walked down to the West End of the church.  It’s the most remarkable building: part of it dates back to 1077 (!) then another wall dates from a century or two later, and is different in style, then another bit had been added again in a different style, and consequently the whole place could be a mess. As far as design goes it probably is: nothing quite lines up with anything else: the roof is at least four different heights, and has a 19th century ceiling in one part, another bit is painted with squares of two or three different colours, the next bit is vaguely polka-dotted with a variety of colours, the next bit is beautiful, and so on!  There is a lady altar, which is very attractive, but fairly simple, then the main altar, but in the middle part of the church, which is the smaller part than the west end which is for a big congregation, has an altar depicting the Resurrection and must have over 50 statues, all about 2 or 3 feet high, and a number of smaller ones, all quite different and depicting various saints, and a larger crucifix in the middle.  Fantastic!!

St Alban’s tomb, if you walk into it, is interesting but decaying, but approach it from the lady altar, and the three arches in front of it take on a strange light, and there is a curious pink glow about it all, which seemed to have no particular source. The amount of carving, not only of the statues but of endlessly detailed and decorated archways, and pillars, is astonishing.  There are murals, now being cleaned, that date back to the beginning of this particular church, and there are stones in the tower, I think, that were used in the building of the Roman town of Verulamium, or somesuch, next door, which must date back to the first or 2nd centuries!  There has been a church there since the 3rd, of some sort.

But we ran into troubles again – last time we couldn’t get in.  This time we got down to the West end, and Reg (which is what I’m to call him) wandered off into the middle while we other 3 were admiring some plaques that dated back to 1686, and next thing we found Evensong had begun and we couldn’t follow Reg through.  The same little man was stopping us at the door between the two parts.  So we went out the West door and back in the other end, and another man said would we sit down, so we did, sighting Reg trapped, somehow, on the other side of the door, which he’d managed to go out though we couldn’t come in it! The service went on and on, and though we tried to leave during on bit, we were asked very firmly to sit down again! And the choir, of boys and men, which though it was very good, sang the same sort of thing over and over again, seemed never to stop!  Trapped!  In due course it all came to an end, but we were a bit annoyed, really, because it had taken up so much of the short time we had.  Not to worry. 

After this we went and had tea and cakes – indispensable; I’m even beginning to think so myself – homemade, too, at a little place just up the street.  Home, and then we had tea proper!  After this we watched the last night of the Proms on TV – the last night of 52! – but it was the 2nd half and all pretty rowdy – the audience is quite mad on the last night. [At this point the Last Night of the Proms wasn't something I knew much about.] Reg then went out to collect Nina, and he made a tape on his return of me playing some music, as well as all the chat that went on in between.  I’m afraid I wasn’t too happy with my playing, but it seemed to come out quite well on the tape.

This morning to Mass just down the road, and very crowded it was too.  It was a High sung Mass, but the music didn’t seem to be particularly interesting.  At least the hymns were familiar. 

This afternoon Reg and I had a game of chess which he won...!  I had him fooled for a while, though; he wondered what the new opening was that I made: completely Crowl! [In other words I was making it up as I went along; my usual amateur tactic – Reg could actually play well.] This afternoon, too, we went and visited Winnie Crowl, Reg’s cousin, my second, according to her, and she’s a lovely old lady, not that old, I suppose, about 60-something, but very bright.  A Cockney too.  She pronounces her name to rhyme with Crow, which is curious, because Reg pronounces it the way we do [rhyming with Owl].  She lives in a maisonette, which is the upper floor of a semi-detached – I think – near Arnos Grove.  Which is near where Anne and Pat live.  She’s invited me to come round any time I feel like letting off steam!  She says she’s a good listener, but she is very easy to talk to.  It’s marvellous how pleased these people are to see me – perhaps it’s my origin, i.e., from NZ, or perhaps the fact of whose son I am – though Reg reckons that anything I want to know about you Winnie can tell me! She and Reg are fairly close I think.  But she really did welcome me with open arms.  Great isn’t it? I’ve felt a bit embarrassed about the shower of gifts, almost, that the Crowls have presented: particularly in the way of hospitality, and also in gifts of fruit and eggs, and cake, and now an alarm clock (my wee clock’s fine, except for the alarm), so this time I gave Mavis a small box of chocs – I’d wanted to get some flowers which she loves but since it’s been so wet, the flower sellers weren't around.  And I’ve been invited out again next weekend!  They’re marvellous, aren’t they?  I thought the home relatives were a good lot, but these are wonderful too.  Reg reckons he’s learning more about London all the time – I’ve been to several places he hasn't!  Mad, isn’t it? 

At the moment on the radio there’s an interview with a woman who’s a divorcee, and a widow, discussing her problems of being on her own – it’s very emotional.  She keeps breathing very heavily.  It’s quite surprising what they’re discussing.  Mike

[In spite of Winnie’s warm welcome and encouragement, I don’t ever remember going there on my own. I may have gone once or twice more with Reg, but I don’t remember. As for her being a Cockney – well, she may have been born, like my father was supposed to have been, within the sound of Bow Bells – but there wasn’t a hint of Cockney in her speech, any more than there was in Reg and his family’s. My amazement at St Alban’s was no doubt due to its being one of the first ancient churches I visited. ]