Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Blessing Way

Yesterday I said to my Yogi, “I’m pleased to see you, and that is a banana in my pocket.” The look she gave me was a delicate mixture of abject terror and confusion. With the minutes ticking down to eleven o’clock and the ceremony about to begin, she had a lot more on her mind than listening to me being a jackass.

Also, since she'd last seen me, I’d had a pretty severe haircut. It’s what happens when the barber is more interested in watching the Croatia v Germany match than what he’s actually doing with the clippers. So she needed that extra split second to figure out who was looming over her. And the lighting wasn’t that great. But then we were in church, and I really did have a banana in my jacket pocket.

It was a celebration of first Holy Communion, though certainly not for me. I know politics and religion are topics best steered cleared of, so I won’t bother making any claims that Gordon Brown is about as effectual as a fart in a wet paper bag when it comes to leading the government. But there’s probably no harm in saying I don’t do church services, or religion for that matter.

I mean, I vaguely remember going to Sunday School classes when I was an innocent wee nipper, but that didn’t last long. After the prep school’s annual Christmas service it’s pretty much come down to five weddings and two funerals. The last time, for a service, was my aunt’s funeral just over four years ago. That really wasn’t a good day.

I’m all for folk wanting something to believe in, but organised religion frankly annoys me. That said, I do love the magnificent edifices people built to worship in. Travels abroad meant spending quality time in the Byzantine Basilica di San Marco in Venice, or Montreal’s neo-Gothic Notre-Dame Basilica, or Grace Cathedral perched on Nob Hill in San Francisco. And of course there’s always the last ten minutes of A Canterbury Tale if I don’t get the chance to be out and about.

This Marylebone church was obviously not in their league but still pretty darn impressive. Along with the Agent’s youngest daughter, the Yogi’s son was amongst the two-dozen children taking their first Holy Communion. She had invited me along to the morning service and afternoon reception at the Agent’s flat, which was nice.

Getting off at the stop on Baker Street, I wandered into the coffee shop opposite to order a latte to go. Putting on my suit I’d noticed one particular side effect of giving up the gaspers, so when the sultry young barista tried to tempt me with her pert pastries, I opted for something from the fruit bowl.

Except, I didn’t clearly think it through. Walking down the street with a coffee in one hand and an apple in the other would be perfectly acceptable. But a banana seemed odd, especially in this part of town. Misjudging how close I was to the church, the banana was secreted away before I found myself milling around outside as cars and cabs drew up to the kerb and the families and children taking part in the service arrived.

Before I saw my Yogi, or indeed the Agent, the Actress appeared, back from a recent assignment. After hugs and kisses were exchanged I took her aside and apologized profusely for something I’ll have to write about another time. There as a spectator too, both of us unsure as to what was about to unfold, it meant we could sit together and try and work it out between us.

The seats were close to the white marble pulpit in which stood the official event photographer. He also had a video camera on a tripod. Judging from where it was pointing, and with the central aisle seats assigned to the children and immediate family, we had what a theatre would describe as restricted view. Or, rather, no view at all given the marble colonette before us.

While there was a programme containing the order of service, without a direct line of sight we couldn’t see any cues from the priest. It may also have been that I was admiring the stained glass windows and the organ, situated above the sanctuary in the triforium, rather than pay attention. Without a proper introduction, by the time I figured out my place in the Entrance Hymn, I was two verses behind, singing about “love shared” rather than “joy shared”.

The confusion reminded me of the Metallica gig at Wembley with Work Buddy, The Governess and The Bubbly Blonde. Neither Hattie nor I knew when we should have been standing, leaping about, slamdancing, punching the air or making horned demon signs. Obviously this service didn’t require the audience to be that energetic, but what was on the page didn’t always translate.

The only thing that did seem to go to plan was the Homily, but as the children took turns in reciting the Bidding Prayers the two-year-old in the arms of the woman behind us suddenly kicked off, drowning out everything going on at the chancel. In total the ceremony lasted just over an hour, which was certainly long enough, especially since a good proportion of the youngsters in the congregation were beginning to lose what little concentration they had.

Once the ceremony was over it suddenly turned into a wild photocall with first the children lined up en masse, then each individually, then each child with immediate family, standing before the altar as the flashes bounced off the gilt surrounds.

After that we all pretty much needed a drink, especially the members of the congregation who had gone forward to receive Communion after the children had been seen to, apparently now only allowed to be given the wafer by the priest, without the wine. Everyone retired to the Agent’s flat for an afternoon of food and drink, basking in the sunshine everyone had prayed for.

I was home in time for the televised highlights of Trooping the Colour. I thought someone had mentioned something else was happening in Central London.


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