Sunday, 29 October 2017

Thoughts on a Working Week With Fraught Bits

It was rather a nice weekend. One of my former fellow-students at Ruskin College was celebrating her graduation in her Social Work degree. Walking there and back in the dark was a bit spooky, but it was a charming welcome and a lovely place to be. Her youngest son in particular took it upon himself to teach me about Pokemon cards, and we spent quite a long time not really learning these mysteries. I wanted to take him home with me. In the brief term we were students, she had relatively few good words to say about family life, but her partner and children seemed to me a pretty good deal. I guess it's the stress of being away, when you've been at home. It must be so hard to feel on top of things, when you've always been there.

And then the week's work began. We're having new doors. Thirteen of them. Possibly more. They have a tendency to breed - the original plan was for six. And some of these doors are going to have video-entry intercom permission, and all are going to be on a single programmable system (by me!), and there's CCTV as well, and goodness knows what-all. Those of you who know me well will know about the Inner Stalin. I have never slaughtered a kulak, but I do like being in control of stuff. Agendas, minutes, keys, doors, cupboards, diaries, calendars .... This is how Stalin took over the Soviet Union. The others were too busy with the intellectual stuff, and left the drudgery to him. By the time they turned round from their boffin thoughts, he'd taken over the whole thing, and everyone appointed was his lacky.

Now, I'm not quite like that. But I do like to know what's going on in my building, and in my key safe, I've tried out most of the 90 keys, and I'm pretty sure there's nowhere I can't get into.

And then it was Tuesday, the day of the opening of the New Westgate Shopping Centre. At the church meeting previously we'd been given the choices of staying up all night to offer refreshment and relief (let the reader understand) to the waiting Mammonite masses, or start at 6 a.m. with Radio Oxford. We went for the morning. And, a little bleary, there we were - two deacons ahead of me, and others soon after. The vast crowds we were promised didn't materialise. One of our number arrived a little late, loudly apologising "I overslept!". I replied "we're over-staffed!". But it was a good morning, and it got better. We saw people we'd not seen before. There was the chap who used to have a hurdy-gurdy (I have no idea if that's the right word) in Cornmarket Street thirty years ago. And another who'd come to be with his girlfriend as her London job was re-located to Oxford (the closest she could afford to live was Bicester), but no, he had no plans to come here too, and they were going to schedule their weekends. I could see the parish matrons thinking "that's not going to work". And there was the homeless guy who had got so close to the top of the fortnightly council house lottery, within the top ten the last few weeks, he was sure he'd get somewhere to live. He was a widower. He was scarcely half my age (51).

Wednesday was spent trying to catch up on all the things that Tuesday wasn't, and then it was Thursday. Arriving early to work (I took the bus, which I hate doing, but my sleeping patterns are shot and this was the only way to get there in time) I saw the
CCTV people putting in the 4th and last camera in not quite the place that had been agreed by the grown-ups. But it was there.
Installed, in the sandstone wall. Of the listed building. The view it gives us is magnificent, and much better than the one planned. So I said "leave it be, and let's see if it becomes a problem". This isn't really my place to decide. But that's the
catch with works chosen by a committee of organ-grinders, and just the monkey on-site.

Friday was a new dilemma. A church funeral, for John, our organist, a serving deacon, fifth generation of the church for ever, and someone of whom I was personally very fond indeed, was fixed for a day when something else was fixed.

I had to unfix it. It was for the street homeless who have died this year. It was an uncomfortable thing to do (thinking to the widower I'd met on Tuesday morning), but the deacons have backed me. For my own part, I was thinking of the day five years ago when I was walking with my mother and six diaries (none of them family) trying to sort my father's funeral, and thinking how collapsing it would have been to be told No, after all. The homeless will do their thing at a nearby church.

And then it was the joyful stress-free weekend. And I remembered the November Prayer Diary, which begins on Wednesday. So, after much delay, off into town I go. There are few things I truly hate more than Oxford city centre on a Saturday. Add, opening of New Westgate Centre, and half-term, and you have the 6th pit of hell. I say that only because one must always, as in a filing cabinet, leave space for a 7th. And thus and so it was. A few cute legs - we're getting to the end of the shorts and thighs season, which I'm personally resisiting (the end, that is), but not to the delight of those others who are doing the same. Children everywhere for half-term. And then the monster of the New Westgate. Goodness. Well, goodness doesn't really come into it. It has shop after shop, restaurant after eatery, John Lewis on three floors (but not the corkscrew I wanted), a roof terrace and lovely views of the city. In fact, mainly lovely views of my college, but that's actually a pretty good deal.

But it was people, people, people. I was so glad to get out onto what I call "the coast road" out of town. It's the ring road, but I think the ebb and flow of the traffic is very like the waves on a beach. It's quite soothing.

This afternoon I headed into Headington mainly in search of milk from Waitrose - I have this notion that their cows are happier. Also some more sausages to replace those that are going to be turned into toad-in-the-hole (about which Ricardo is disgracefully rude) and I had this loony idea I might find an aloe vera plant. For that, I was too late, even if such a thing exists. I read somewhere that they give out good vibes. I could do with that.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
October 2017


  1. A busy week indeed. Seeing how wide the remit of the role that you have taken on is great. A living wage at least, and after years of being unemployed, that must be a consolation, albeit, I know that you'd love to be back in full time ministry. I still fail to see how the Church can refuse you even PTO, when there is a real skills shortage for itinerant preachers and Priests. We have three priests at the moment, but given that the Vicar is due to retire, our Curate has come to the end of his curacy and our retired Priest is getting a bit dodgy health wise, we might soon be in vacancy, and having to beg, borrow and steal priests for communion services.

  2. There is such a thing as an aloe vera plant. I'll have a word on Friday, if I remember, with the lady who gave it to me, about how to get it to give birth and whether its offspring could travel by post.

  3. Re the aloe vera plant : Diana started an offshoot off from mine. If it takes she'll post it for me one Friday when you're going to be at home on the Saturday.I'll keep you posted.