Not my home…

I’ve been thinking a bit about Negro spirituals recently.  Maybe because we are in the process of selling our flat and it makes me realise how we become attached to our homes.  The lines of a song my mother used to sing go round in my head: “This world is not my home, I’m just apassing through, if heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?”  

When our lives are comfortable and our homes are secure, we don’t have much need of a hope of heaven.  When life is difficult, as it surely was for black slaves, what hope is there, if not hope that in my father’s house, there are many mansions? Hope that knows that heaven is sure?  So the songs say:

‘I want to go home, where there’s no hard trials, I want to go home, where there’s no whip a-crackin’

‘My brudder, how long,  ‘Fore we done sufferin’ here? It won’t be long, it won’t be long, it won’t be long, ‘For de Lord will call us home.’

‘Wish I was in heaven sitting down, wish I was in heaven sitting down, wouldn’t get tired no more, wouldn’t get tired no more.‘  Song after song about their hope of heaven.  

Those song-writers, rich in faith, knew that surely heaven is not a place on earth.  ‘They admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth… they were looking for a country of their own, longing for a better place – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is proud to be called ‘their God’ and he has prepared a City for them.’  Proud to be called God of the the slaves, the stranger, the alien, God of the homeless, the refugee, the asylum seeker,  God of the orphan, God of the widow.  This is my God. Hallelujah!

While I was musing on this, Mark Meynell drew my attention to this album:  Wayfaring Stranger – A Spiritual Songbook Kristin Asbjørnsen She is a Norwegian singer with a voice straight out of a jazz club doing an album of Negro Spiritual covers. I love it. Read what Mark has to say about it on his blog – Quaerentia ( – always worth a look).

100 years of Sydney Road

Well almost. I parked the car on our street yesterday and was just unloading the shopping from the boot, when a little old lady pulling a tartan shopping bag on wheels stopped and said something about how there were too many cars on our road now. She was short and stout and wearing a smart black fur jacket over a red cardigan and a black and white scarf over her hair, tied under her chin.

Memory laneI paused, she kept talking about her dog.  ‘We used to take her for a walk, four times a day, down our street, round the block and back, then Wimbledon Common at the weekends. But she didn’t walk on the pavement, oh no, out in the middle of the road, head up, if there was a car coming, it just had to wait. Nobody minded. Off she’d go to the newsagent and carry the newspaper back in her mouth – down the middle of the road. She’d go to the chemist to be weighed and he’d give her a barley sugar. Then back home. She’d dance for the children and beg. Her name was Sue.’

Sue used to bark goodbye to the bus, when her sisters came to visit from Croydon: ‘Bark, bark.’ One day the bus conductor and the driver both got off the bus to admire the cleverness of the dog.  ”What did that dog just say?” asked the conductor. And none of the passengers minded, no-one said ‘hurry up, lets go.’  They were looking out the windows at the dog’. That was in the forties. She died in the sixties.’ Quite a life for a dog.

I asked her if she’d lived here all her life – yes, she was born in the Nelson Hospital. ‘You must have seen a lot of changes,’ I said.

‘Oh yes, and not for the better. There used to be an army camp, where the gym is now. One day, they were sounding the ‘all clear’ and everyone was out in their gardens, but there was another plane coming over, so low we could see the pilot and he waved at us. He was just a young man, like ours, didn’t want to be fighting. We’d come out of our Anderson shelter but there was still a plane up there.’

She kept talking, about her sister who had raised money for the soldiers.  She still has the letter written to say thank-you – the soldiers had bought themselves beer and cigarettes.

So much history, so easy to lose it all. Maybe I should have introduced myself.  Maybe I could have gone round for tea.  Instead, I picked up my bags, she started walking.  I wanted a camera and a microphone, but these words from memory are all I can do.  Respect to you, old lady.  Many blessings in your last years. May you have time to talk and people to listen, may there still be good days with old friends, may you come, at last, to a happy ending. Amen.

A green thought

For the first time yesterday afternoon, Daniel was crawling around our garden, examining blades of grass and nasturtium petals that come up to his nose.

The garden is a length of very scraggy grass, dotted with dandelions. Down the centre is an old brick path. The grass on the left hand side of the path is ours, the grass on the other side is our neighbours’. We both have a strip oA lovely garden on the other side of the worldf flowerbed running down each fence. The neighbours’ side is low maintenance: the soil is covered in bark out of which grow three tall rose bushes, two low shrubs with mottled leaves and a Japanese maple. They also have some very colourful flowers in pots.

For the last two years I’ve planted nasturtiums on our side which have flourished, climbing over the fence and creeping out into the grass. They move so fast I’m sure you could watch them grow if you sat for an hour. Even this year, when I haven’t planted any, the little round leaves are appearing all over the place. We also have jasmine, lavender, oregano, mint and rosemary in pots, flowering stock, lambs lugs, a climbing rose and a green bush. Last year we grew tomatoes. Its a sunny, south facing place and plants seem to enjoy being there.

Like others before me, I’ve learnt some things in my garden:

1)  Planning in November what you want to see in June is a good idea (planning, even what I do next week, is not one of my natural abilities). 

2)  Believing that that stick will one day become a rose bush and that speck a mass of orange flowers is not crazy.

3)  Plants need watered – often.  

4)  If one day we all stop gardening and stay inside and watch TV, the walls and streets and houses of London will disappear under the weight of Japanese bindweed – and that will take less time than you think.