Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I want to open this post with a salutation to Adam, who found my cellphone on the train to Paddington last Thursday and went to endless trouble arranging to get it back to me before I caught the train home yesterday evening.  Being the absent-minded creature I am, I'd assumed I had left it at home when I looked for it to call my daughter to say I'd arrived at the Women's Club where we stay in South Audley Street and would see her at St Paul's the following morning. I was just about to call her on the premium-rated phone in my room when the receptionist put her through to me. Cara was calling to say  that the phone was safe and sound in the care of a man who lived in Reading but worked at Paddington Station. He had opened  her messages to me and called her back on his phone to tell her he had mine. Then he asked her to ask me to call him to arrange a time when I could pick it up at Paddingdon. My booked train left just after his shift finished on Monday, but I said I'd hang on for him at the First Great Western Information desk until it was time to board. At ten to three, I saw a young Asian* man walking briskly towards me, dressed in on one of those green fluorescent jackets that station workers wear. He might have been a cleaner or a dispatcher. I thought, dispatcher - or some other frontline job on the station concourse.
   'Are you meeting Adam?' he asked me.
   'Yes - are you Adam?'
   'I'm Adam, yes, and here's your phone.'
I tried to give him a ten pound note for his trouble, but he wouldn't take it. 'It has been my pleasure,' he said, then, almost confidentially: 'The Penzance train leaves from Platform 8.' Since this information was not yet up on the departures board, I got to my seat before the great surge that is the lot of travellers on our overcrowded trains that can't catch up with the twenty-first century.

So, Adam, I salute you. You are kind and honest and generous with your time. It was my pleasure to meet you. I hope I meet more of your kind as I get older and more vulnerable, and I especially hope that my daughter meets more of your kind as she negotiates adult life.

*since I posted this, Adam has texted me to point out that he's Algerian, not Asian.

I was in London to attend the annual parade through the City of London by the sixth form and band of my daughter's school, Christ's Hospital www.christs-hospital.org.uk  on 21 September - St Matthew's Day. Usually this is held at St Matthew's Church in Holborn, followed by a long march to The Guildhall and Mansion House, to which parents are not invited. But because this year commemorates the 460th anniversary of Christ's Hospital's foundation, the service was in St Paul's Cathedral with the whole school - 800 pupils, together with their teachers, seated in the transept. Sixth form parents - like me -could apply for tickets to sit in the aisle and watch the Lord Mayor's procession walk up to the Choir: clergy, Guildsmen, sergeant-at-arms and sword-bearer, stiff as a rod in his  gilt-frogged uniform, a plume of white ostrich feathers in his military hat.
The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Reverend David Ison, who gave the Welcome and Bidding, had this to say about Christ's Hospital: 'We give thanks for the vision and energy of the school's founder, King Edward VI, for those who came together in times of upheaval and change to provide for the poor and destitute of the day. We thank God for its rich academic history and its relationship with the City of London. We pray that it may continue to nurture and enrich the lives of all its pupils, that they may be a force for good in the world. We commend to God the future of Christ's Hospital, praying that it may remain faithful to the vision of its founder in providing education and support for disadvantaged children.'

In his sermon  the Dean went on to speak about Matthew, the tax collector at the receipt of custom -  a man doing a prestigious job 'in a sort of City of his day.' He gave it all up to follow Jesus; and the gospel of charity and peace, preached by St Matthew and the other Apostles, was taken up a thousand years or so later by the wealthy London Guilds and Companies and continued throughout the centuries which followed in a long tradition of giving to the poor. This charitable, but often overlooked, element in The City's history can be sampled at The Guildhall Galley near the Mansion House and Guildhall, home of the City of London Corporation.

Today, The City continues to sponsor charitable projects and foundations, including Christ's Hospital, where donations come from City banks and legal firms, as well as from the wealthy alumni - Old Blues, who have made their fortunes within the square mile. My daughter owes the most significant and best part of her education to them: she entered the school aged thirteen on a Foundation Bursary - which was a gift to me too since I had recently been diagnosed with cancer snd was worried sick about her future. To date, only a tiny percentage of the pupils at Christ' Hospital pay the full fees of over £27,000 per year- at this unique and spectacular independent school where the mission statement is giving education with care. So when I am off on a rant about hedge-funders and super-rich tax-dodgers, like the business moguls who squirrel their gains in offshore accounts, I should stop to remember those Foundation Governors of Christ's Hospital, forming an escort for the Lord Mayor, Guilds and Companies as they passed down the aisle of Wren's cathedral four days ago.

Christ's Hospital Band leading the march to St Paul's

and on to the Mansion House. The Guildhall Gallery is on the right.

Guildhall Art Gallery and London's Roman Amphitheatre


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