One of the guys I cycle with, Conor, was asking if I’d had any days recently going up to London and I told him I’d been up the day before and how cycling over Waterloo Bridge had brought back an interesting memory of the first time I’d ridden across that bridge four years previously.
Since starting at the Irish Chaplaincy in 2017 I’ve loved cycling around London on my fold-up bike, and I’d been on my way one day to introduce myself to the CSAN team at Romero House, South of the river. As I came over Waterloo Bridge I was completely awestruck by the views over the Thames in both directions: St Paul’s Cathedral and the new City skyscrapers over to the left, with the London Eye, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster on the right. And then I thought, “This looks like the bridge in ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ that Bridget walks across on her way to work one morning!” That feeling of being in a film-set followed me round in those first months in London. I had the great pleasure of making a regular visit to an elderly Irish lady called Ellen who lived just up the road from Notting Hill. The film of that name is a particular favourite of mine and following my first visit to Ellen I was eager to see the sets. I first found the famous ‘blue door’ where Hugh Grant’s character lives in the film (in reality the house was owned at the time by Richard Curtis, the Director). From there can be see the café across the road where he bumps into Julia Roberts and spills orange juice on her T-shirt, and a little further down Portobello Road and past the market stalls is the site of the travel book shop where he worked. After a little exploring I also discovered the hidden park where they sneak in one night. I took a photo at each location and excitedly sent them to my children.
Shortly after that I had a meeting with the Parish Priest of the Catholic church in Hampstead and took the opportunity to cycle to the top of the Heath to Kenwood House, another scene in ‘Notting Hill’. That was to be the start point for our annual Irish Chaplaincy pilgrimage day. Prior to the inaugural one I’d been having a conversation with someone about possible routes and he had suggested the sights of Catholic martyrs in London. “No, no, no,” I thought, “we’re going round ‘Notting Hill’ film sets”! I made sure the route also took in Parliament Hill, the bench at the top of which is often seen on the screen. One year when we were on our pilgrimage the cameras were actually there, filming Ricky Gervais on the bench with a dog!
When at St James’ church, the venue for our St Brigid’s concert, I sometimes have a wander down Piccadilly to Green Park, passing The Ritz, yet another scene from ‘Notting Hill’. And when cycling back from the Irish Embassy I’ll skirt the other side of Green Park as I come past Buckingham Palace, remembering there the arrival by motorcade of Hugh Grant, newly elected Prime Minister in ‘Love Actually’, as he goes in to meet the Queen. Yet another Hugh Grant memory was sparked when I found myself one day at Kensington Gardens by Hyde Park. I was on my way back from a meeting and stopped to have my sandwich at the fountains where Grant has a fight with Colin Firth in ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’. Then there was my first ever prison visit, to the enormous, crowded, noisy HMP Wandsworth. Yes, there was a little flashback to ‘Shawshank Redemption’!
I asked Conor if I was a bit weird for thinking I was in a film set when out and about in London. “Oh, no,” he assured me, “I literally work in a film-set.” His place of work is the University of London Senate Building, whose tall and striking Modernist façade has provided the backdrop for many programmes and movies, including two of the ‘Batman’ franchise. He explained how it had recently been disguised as a Soviet government building for some or other production. “Whenever I turn the TV on I see the Senate building,” he remarked, “there’s no escape from work!”
For much of the last 18 months my view whilst working has been my garden (lovely as it is) or, when on a zoom call, the wall behind me! With our office about to re-open I’m relishing the prospect of more days in London. Let the cameras roll…