Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Whispering Gallery.

One of our friends who is the same age as my husband has just had a baby. I don't mean it emerged from his body, although with modern medical advances that possibility might not be far off, or perhaps even already here but The Man is keeping it from us because if women the world over discovered we could hand over pregnancy and birth to men we would make them stay at home, barefoot and pregnant, and sally forth into the world to have fun ourselves, and then sexual assault would all but disappear, and the newspaper industry would have to fold. But I digress.  I mean that his wife just had a baby, a girl, his fourth child and her first. 

On the day I'm due to meet the new baby I go on a recce to St Paul's Cathedral. I have to queue to get in, along with all the Spanish and Italian tourists. I have my bag searched at the door, then walk purposefully towards the nave but encounter an obstacle there - Evensong, about to begin. A woman holding copies of the order of service asks if I'd like to take part and for some reason I say yes, and take a copy, and then a pew among the congregation, and then think: strange decision.

I don't believe I've ever been to a church service that wasn't a wedding, a funeral, or a christening. I've certainly never been to one by myself. A friend once asked me to be her child's godparent but I felt I had to politely decline because I wouldn't be able to say all that stuff in church without everything crossed. And now here I am, alone in St Paul's Cathedral, on a Saturday afternoon, listening to the choir boys' song reverberate around the walls of the Whispering Gallery, and it brings tears to my eyes because it's so beautiful, and because a woman fell from here a few weeks ago and looking up at the precarious railings I can't help but think about that. What was going through her mind? Why the Whispering Gallery?

After the service, walking from the cathedral to the Strand, it's eerily quiet because the roads are closed in preparation for the Lord Mayor's fireworks display. Without traffic noise I can hear my own footsteps echo along the pavement and snatches of other people's conversations as they pass. 

At my hairdressers in Covent Garden I tell Sergio about the service in St Paul's. "You're Italian," I say. "Do you believe all that stuff?"

"Oh no," he says, twirling his scissors. "Not anymore."

I tell him about going to visit the baby and when I mention her name - Fallon - he mishears and thinks I say phallic.

"That's my religion!" he laughs, which is funny, and not true because he later tells me a long and involved story about a car accident in his twenties when he was sure his life was saved because his patron saint was looking out for him, then he shows me a picture of him in his office before I leave.

At our friends' house later I meet up with my husband and cradle our friends' baby in my arms. She's like a tiny mewing kitten. My husband pours the champagne he brought for the occasion. The three of us sip it as the baby's mother unfolds the tissue paper enclosing the tiny outfit, with matching tiny shoes, that I took great pleasure in choosing after I left the hairdressers. We all stare at the newborn baby in silent contemplation for a moment.

"So," says the baby's father. "A guy in a shop thought I was her Grandad; and I'm going to regret telling you that, aren't I."

"What's it like being a Daddy again, Grandad?" I ask.

He smiles, and says... 

Actually, I don't remember what he says, I'm too busy looking at his baby.

Love E x



  1. That's Padre Pio in the middle picture there, my Grandad met him during the War. What a small world. And do people need to believe it to like it?