On Saturday, I embarked upon a Dayrider Jolly – always random and usually fun. However, this particular expedition had a serious purpose underlying it.
Five years ago today, my lovely dad died. Saturday was the only day when my mum, my brother and myself were all free, so we met up (with my young nephew as well) and spent some good family time together. Lots of story-sharing, and the exchanging of strange and wonderful information.
Mum lives in Fishponds, and I had arranged to get to her by 2pm. So setting off at 10.30 should have been fine, shouldn’t it? Well, yes – unless you are abiding by the principles of the Dayrider Jolly, the cardinal one being ‘Randomness Rules’.
In keeping with the principle of catching the first bus that arrives, I found myself heading towards Henbury and Southmead instead of Fishponds. Not the most direct route. But then again, it is beautiful along the roads close to Blaise Castle. We crossed the ford (pretty dry after a rainless springtime), and the hedges were high with cow parsley. And I also spotted an expanse of greater celandine growing along one hedgerow – it isn’t related to the buttercup like the lesser celandine, but more closely resembles a miniature Welsh poppy.
I decided to disembark at Monks Park Avenue in order to pick up the No 17 at Muller Road (OK – I know I could have caught it from Southmead Hospital but my Dayrider logic has its own rhyme and reason). I knew I had to walk a bit further south to reach Muller Road and decided that, instead of walking along the Gloucester Road, I would find a route through the residential roads.
And so, I set off along peaceful, suburban Grittleton Road. It was nice. There were swallows flying overhead, and at the bottom of the road, a tiny place that seemed full of magic. A small, suburban version of a village green, serving as a roundabout for the few cars that drive that way. At the heart of the green was a big old tree. And surrounding the big old tree was a ring of wooden seating. I imagined the goodly folk of Grittleton Road gathering there on summer evenings to reminisce and be generally neighbourly.
I then had a choice of turning to the left or the right. The left turn seemed the most sensible, so I chose that way, walked along…and found myself back on Monks Park Avenue again. Hey ho.
As I reached the Gloucester Road, a bus turned up. I decided it might be sensible to catch it into the city centre, and then take a bus onwards to Fishponds. Although that seemed a good idea, the bus was early and consequently spent a lot of time waiting at the next few bus stops. I began to despair of ever reaching my destination. In the end, when someone rang the bell, I disembarked with them. By then, I was in need of caffeine AND a loo, and nothing else in life really mattered.
And then I reached Horfield Baptist church, to find it festooned with bunting, and with a barbecue in full swing in the front garden. And the cafe was open!!! If ever you are in that part of town, I would recommend this cafe – it’s called Freshly Ground, and it is full of sunlight, home-made cakes and very good coffee. And the staff are extremely cheerful and welcoming. To make my visit complete, a local photographer had displayed his works on the walls, to create a beautiful exhibition.
I was then invited into the church building itself. The church was celebrating its 150th anniversary, hence the bunting, barbecue and general ebullience. So I went inside – my brain was frazzled with working out how to get to Fishponds, so I’m afraid I couldn’t take in much information. But I DID soak up the atmosphere of the place.
It is such a beautiful building. High ceilings, a sense of loftiness. At the ‘preaching end’, something akin to a high apse clad in rich, dark wood. Beautiful banners with Bible verses and images adorning the walls. And above all, a sense of the Holy.
What I mean, is that as I waited in there, time seemed to slow as if moving to a wise and ancient heartbeat. There was a sense of richness, sweetness, gravity. I found myself praying without realising I was praying. Joy.
This is a place where people have yearned for God and then realised that God was actually yearning for them. It is one of those ‘thin’ places between earth and Heaven where we can get an intimation that there is truly more to this life than getting born and then eating, working, procreating and sleeping before dying. It is a place that invites you to cease living in sepia and begin living in Technicolor – like Dorothy when she was whirled off by a tornado to the Land of Oz.
This is the second place I have visited recently that has made me feel like this. The first was the sanctuary at Southmead Hospital. When I first visited it during the hospital’s early days, the chaplain apologised to me. The place was very new, he explained, and therefore it didn’t feel quite prayed-in.
But it does now. On that day, I sat there, amidst the deep quiet and the richly-stained glass and felt that slowness, that stillness, that joy, that Presence. The old saints tell us that we can never understand God through our intellects but we can know Him/Her through love. And that is how it is in these ‘thin places’.
When I left the sanctuary that day, the pianist in the foyer was playing ‘There Must Be An Angel’ by The Eurythmics, and I found myself in tears. When I discovered I was expecting my first son, this song was being played all the time, and added to the joy I was experiencing during those heady days.
But to return to Saturday and standing in that other holy place.
Suddenly, the morning’s rather chaotic Dayrider journey made sense.
After visiting the church, I wandered across to Muller Road and caught a No 17 all the way to Fishponds. And then I wandered to the bottom of my old childhood garden and sat where my dad had loved to sit with his morning coffee and listen to the birds sing.
Even though it was an overcast day, the sun had managed to warm the seat so that it felt as if I was being hugged by Dad. Well..that is no longer possible, but I can still be hugged by the legacy of love he has left me. The garden suddenly seemed very bright and timeless, and I realised that I had entered yet another ‘thin place’, although this one came into being because of our memories of a beautiful man who loved this spot, the beautiful man who gave life to my brother and I…a life that continues in our own children and perhaps one day, in their children too.
Remaining true to a Dayrider jolly can be rather like becoming a tiny money spider and abandoning yourself to the breeze, knowing you could end up ANYWHERE. Superficially, this seems as if it could lead to either chaos or disappointment. But I do believe that there is ‘a destiny that doth shape our ends’, and if our journeys in life do not always deliver what we are expecting, then we can simply enjoy what does come our way instead.