As the train rumbled on I was reading a new compilation of John Betjeman’s TV scripts (I got it for a quid in the book frenzy as Borders on Oxford St. closes). It’s good if a slightly odd read, as some of passages refer to montages on the TV films we can’t see. It’s worth a look though.
I would have been in a Betjeman state of mind anyway; heading out of Paddington on the GWR does this to me for some reason. Changing trains at Didcot (I think it’s could be the name) is an essential JB moment particularly if a steam engine is puffing by.
In one passage in the book JB’s praising some alms houses and describes the beauty of a cupola/lantern/dovecot built above their communal dining hall. As I read this bit the train sped past some out of town shopping centre, a Tesco centre and there topping off this temple of “best of Tuscan-style tomato & Parmesan vine grown organic frittata & Value range savoury egg multipack” over consumption was a cupola. You’ll see it’s like sprinkled all across this part of the country; seemingly the last cynical click of the mouse designed not to flood the interior with light and air or even host cooing doves but to ensure the fall of the rubber stamp of some beleaguered council planner and the subsequent nod from the misguided acquiescent local councillors. They give an arrogant finger to their neighbours; my heart always sinks whenever I see them.
A Taxi tour of Midsomer County via the breakfast bar.
After dropping my bags off at my travel lodge, 75 quid a night but “the “premier breakfast” is 8 quid extra (how can a breakfast without say kippers or black pudding be “premier”? What’s “premier” about a thimble sized shot glass of sugary orange juice and what service exactly would I get if I asked the pimply but friendly staff “to warm my croissant”?) I got a cab to the church where my friends were getting married.
Along the way the “local lad” driver got lost! While he tried to find his way he inevitably informed me of the inadequacies of the one way system (does anyone ever care about this? No but cabbies the world over insist of telling you about it “you see you use to be able to turn right here but the pillocks at the Council blocked it off...”). He wasn’t a bad soul and dropped the price down for us having cruised the mean streets of Wallingford twice looking for the church. (My map was right it turns out “there is a church down there” after all).
Pre-wedding Butterflies and Romanesque musings
I was in plenty of time however and sat in a patch of sunshine in the otherwise shady church yard. The church I think would have please old John B being as its impossibly old (a list of former Rectors on the wall goes back to 1200’s). Its walls curving to little towers and also at the east end of the nave. It was really a very bucolic setting, patches of the grounds had been left to grow long and where filled with wild flowers providing nectar for buzzing butterflies and bumble bees. Above me somewhere a black bird serenaded us all. Inside the choir (Don’t listen to anyone who says the English can’t sing!) were practising and for moment avian and human voices were entwined. Over come by it all I was just about to go next door and ask if there was still honey left for tea!
Reluctantly I went inside, the church was filling with tiny hats and impossibly high heels, new suits and freshly shaved chins. Being Romanesque (in design) the church has a wide curved arch across the nave delicately carved with simple repeating floral cross reliefs. At times like these my mind drifts off to thoughts of the people who built these places. Not strangely the fresh off the boat Norman using his ill gotten wealth to glorify God (and himself along the way) but the put upon nameless mason chipping away at the honeyed stone. I doubt he would've imagined I would be sat here all these many years later in my tight collar and tighter best shoes looking up at his delicate work. His simple open carving out lasting the vanity of his patron. I’ll have to stop now the brides arrived and the blackbirds struck up again.