My pre-Covid routines are returning one by one and I was looking forward to making an appearance at the re-opened Community Café at the Irish Centre, having been invited by the amazing Willie Moone to join him for a couple of tunes.
It was my third trip to London in one week and I am so enjoying getting out and about again. I’d been into the office on the Tuesday for a long-anticipated cup of tea with somebody who had joined the cairde (friends) scheme of the Irish Chaplaincy a few months before Covid, and I’d not had a chance to meet her in the flesh. I asked how she’d first heard about us. She explained that she’d been in Swiss Cottage library one day and an elderly Irish lady sitting next to her had suggested that she read one of my blogs! It was the start of a very pleasant correspondence via e-mail and finally we got to see one another in person. And how lovely it was.
On the Thursday I’d gone to a fundraising conference and, again, it was just so good to interact with real live human beings. “Did you used to go the Catholics in Fundraising meetings?” I was asked by a young woman called Emily. She recognised me from the zoom screen! And how wonderful it is to be recognised. I had lunch with an incredibly friendly guy called Jonathan who had been a musician for many years and told me how he used to organise concerts at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. I may have been at one of them! I told him to keep February 5th free in his diary. It will be our annual St Brigid’s concert and it will be once again at St James’s church Piccadilly: LIVE and IN THE FLESH!
I brought my fold-up bike with me on the Friday and, as I used to, cycled past the still-being-built new Google HQ by Kings Cross, through the water features on Granary Square and then along the canal: a sacred route for me. On the way into the Irish Centre that morning I came in via the Hub, as I always used to, and spotted Caroline, who had been a regular at those Friday morning pre-lunch club musical sessions with Willie. She was delighted to hear that I’d be coming down. “Oh, I love singing with you,” she said.
By the time I arrived in the Kennedy Hall Willie was already into the first of the hundreds of songs that he knows by heart and it was great to see old faces. Maeve, who’s been involved with the Irish Centre since it opened in the 50s was pleased to see me, and I her. It was a great delight to see Mary Allen, another well-known face at the Centre, and in the Irish community generally, since the 50s. She’s always been very kind to me since I started at the Chaplaincy in 2017 and she’s always keen to give me a bit of news. She asked about out Gerry, as did several of those I spoke to. “He’s the best priest we ever had,” she declared.
It was good as well to sing. Caroline wanted Simon & Garfunkel and Willie willingly handed over his guitar and I gladly obliged and Caroline and I made some pleasing harmonies on ‘Homeward Bound’.
A bit later in the day I took a stroll through the little park in Camden Square, which I did on my very first day at the Chaplaincy and on many days subsequently. I’d sat on a bench in the square on that January day in 2017 to eat my sandwich and I wondered what I’d done, leaving the security of a charity I’d been part of for twenty-eight years and where I knew pretty much everyone and everything, and coming to a place where I didn’t know anybody or anything! I wandered over to St Paul’s church at the end of the Square and my eye was caught by a poster announcing Silent Prayer in the chapel every Thursday at 1pm, and I knew then that all would be well. I went along that Thursday and sat in deep silence for half an hour with the small group, and then we had tea and a bit of chat. And I did a Tuesday, and it was great to be back after the eighteen-month break.
On the train home I do the ‘quick’ crossword in the Evening Standard, just like I used to. And I might listen to a bit of music, or observe people, or just stare out of the window. I get home and we have our meal and there are plenty of stories to tell again. I go to bed on that Friday night tired and content. It had been a good and stimulating week; thanks, in part, to the return to Camden.