This post is about Remembrance. And thinking about it, you can’t have remembrance without time. The passage of time. So to be more precise, this post is about time and remembering — all wrapped up in our recent week-long visit to London and Scotland. (And speaking of time, this is a longer post than usual, so you might want to get a cup of coffee or tea, or perhaps a glass of wine or some other beverage to sip, put your feet up, and journey along with us.)
We got on the train from Groningen and made the 2 hour trip to Amsterdam and Schiphol (“Skip-pole”) Airport. Our daughter Elyse has become an expert traveler using all modes from bike, bus, train, plane and feet.
After clearing security, we entered the departure pavilion at the airport. I was immediately captivated by the man who was cleaning the large clock that is suspended from the ceiling of this cavernous space. How did he even get in there? I wondered. There must be an access door on the back of the clock, I thought.
As we walked down into that area to look for a cup of coffee and perhaps to browse in the book shop, I found myself sitting in the lounge area just watching him. Incredibly, I realized that the guy in the clock was not just there to clean the huge clock face, but crazy as this might seem, he was actually manually drawing the clock hands as each minute ticked by. You wouldn’t believe me unless you saw it for yourself, so you can watch the video below to see him in action.
Okay, honestly, how long did it take you to realize that this was a computer-generated image and NOT some union airport worker who had an incredible touch with the squeegee and his paint roller! Of course it was funny to watch people walk by en route to their gate and stop and gawk at this guy as he stretched, leaned against the glass, and then resumed the unceasing task of marking time.
That mystery solved, we made our way to our gate for our departure. KLM has become our air carrier of choice. It was a comfortable 45 minute flight to London’s Heathrow Airport — and get this: Even on such a short flight, they came thru the cabin to give a nice dinner meal package. As a regular Southwest customer, I felt as though I was dining in luxury!
As we flew across the channel to the British Isles, I drifting into remembering when I spent my junior year of college at the University of London, Queen Mary College in 1983-84. About 30 of us had lived in a 4-story row house at 12 Nottingham Place, just below Regents Park. I hadn’t been back to our London house since I left that May day 34 years ago, but I wanted to be sure on this trip to build in some time to go to the old neighborhood and stand on our old stoop. I also wanted to see if I could find the pub where I bartended for 4 months, The Queen’s Head.
After we arrived at Heathrow, we made our way towards immigration and customs. We were separated like the sheep and the goats. The sheep, EU residents, went to the left so they could go through the accelerated entry process reserved for all EU members. As non-EU goats, we went down the long hallway to the right until we wound our way back to the non-EU line for entry.
By the time we got in the queue, I could see that the last of the EU travelers had cleared their entry point and were off to collect their baggage and get on their way. Meanwhile we inched our way ahead in line.
It took us a little over an hour to get to the front of the line. The one thought that kept going through my head was “What in the world is going to happen if the UK in fact crashes out of the EU with a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ in which the planned March 2019 separation takes place with no agreements to govern the transition, as many were increasingly fearing??” What would this line be like if all the French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Czech and all other EU citizens were funneled into the goat line? It would be a zoo.
At last we got to the immigration desk. The person asked us a few questions, stamped our passports and wished us a good stay in Britain. In our cab ride to our lodging in South London, the driver told us how just that day, some 700,000 people had marched in London to demand a re-vote on Brexit. The issue was indeed at the forefront of many people’s minds.
The next day we awoke to brilliant sunshine, which was to be our gift for the next three days. We walked from Trafalgar Square down the mall to Buckingham Palace. It just so happened that that majestic promenade was flanked with huge, alternating flags of Britain and the Netherlands! The Dutch flags were being flown (as we learned later) because the King and Queen of the Netherlands were being received for an official state visit later that week! We chose to receive the parade of UK and Dutch flags as a personal welcome.
Elyse snapped this pic of Janet and me in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace. We then had to take a few minutes out of our tourist schedule to have tea with the Queen, which took place ………
We left the palace and walked over through Piccadilly Circus.
Walking anywhere on your first day in central London is quite hazardous because the traffic is coming from the “wrong direction” — at least according to American and mainland European standards. London’s traffic planners, however, are well aware of this. So to help avoid losing legions of tourists who are unintentionally stepping off the sidewalk into traffic, these signs are everywhere in the main tourist district. Evidently, the city enlisted legions of elementary school students to hand paint these on all the curbs — a sensible cost-cutting measure.
We manage to navigate our street crossings and arrived in Piccadilly Circus where a particularly talented street performer was attracting an audience.
A nearby news stand featured this local London tabloid with a headline shouting about Brexit, along with a typically cheeky representation of a British royal connected to the recent controversy involving Saudi Arabia.
We continued to make our way south towards Westminster and the Thames. On the way we came to Big Ben which, unfortunately for us, was encased by scaffolding, leaving it to look more like some rocket sitting on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral.
Walking along the embankment, we could see the many modern additions to the London skyline that have been going up in recent years. The London “Eye” is a favorite attraction boasting the best views of London. Each “car” is a mini mobile observation platform that holds up to 28 people. Each car makes a full rotation in 30 minutes.
Further down the Thames a series of new buildings have been going up. The one to the right made me think of Teletubbies.
These structural additions add visual competition to the iconic landmarks that have defined the London skyline for centuries, but the old standbys remain.
Glorious St. Paul’s Cathedral is actually enhanced by another new structure, the Millenium Bridge, that provides a new pathway across the Thames, linking the cathedral with the Tate Modern on the other bank.
Further along the Thames on the south side is a re-creation of a classic, the Globe Theatre. As a nearby mural attests, Bill is still the rage in London.
We continued walking until we reached the Tower Bridge — a must-see for Elyse.
Then, we explored the Southwark area and hit upon one of our now favorite places in London — Borough Market!
Southwark Cathedral rises up just alongside the teeming market which offers food vendors of every imaginable variety.
I was astonished by these kiddie pool sized woks of paella and curries.
A butcher strolled past with a pig.
Janet settled on Indian . . .
. . . while Elyse and I went for the mouth-watering fish ‘n chips.
As the sun went down, the lights came on at the peak of “The Shard” — another striking new feature of the London skyline.
We then went to the London Bridge Rail Station and caught the train, with a few of our new friends in London, to our lodgings in South London. The pulse and energy of London is absolutely electric. It left me wondering again just how Brexit would impact the economy and people of this vital, enterprising city.
The next day we started out in the neighborhood of South Kensington. It was a Sunday and many people were out for a leisurely brunch or just coffee and a croissant. The sky, brilliant blue again, made the bright colors of the area pop.
Walking around, we spied some real estate notices for some London rentals. I’m providing this as a service to my blog readers who might be interested in snapping up a bargain rental.
Did you catch that that was a weekly rental rate?!!
We took a spin through the world famous Harrod’s store.
The offerings from clothes to furnishings to tech to jewelry to perfume to food were opulent.
We staggered out of Harrods and looked for a place for lunch. Rather than eat in, we decided to escape the crowds and took our sandwiches and salads to Kensington Gardens and the Memorial Fountain for the late Princess Diana. It’s been 21 years since she died in that tragic crash in Paris.
The fountain is beautifully laid out in a circular design. In some places the water is turbulent as it rushes over the rapids.
In another section, it flows gently over a series of steppes.
The memorial is very intentionally hands- (and feet-) on. People wade through the water or just dangle their feet in. Diana had been called “The People’s Princess” because of her warmth and identity as a commoner by birth. Despite becoming a royal, it seemed that she remained down to earth and had this air of approachability. And so it is with her memorial.
With my bride.
Lunch finished, we made our way to Notting Hill. Yes, we are fans of the movie! And walking around the neighborhood, remembrances of that romantic comedy with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant abound.
We walked down Portobello Road which indeed is filled with shops and market stalls.
The site of the Travel Book Shop featured in the film can be a matter of confusion. First, there is the REAL book shop in Notting Hill that was the actual inspiration for the setting in the movie. But that’s not where they shot the film. Instead, they re-created the book shop in this corner shop a couple hundred yards down the road. Some devotees of the film take photos in front of the other shop thinking they’re getting a pic of the movie set.
Here is the blue door of William Thacker’s (Hugh Grant’s) apartment which he shares with his flatmate Spike. The original door is in a museum someplace. We were told that subsequent owners of the building painted the door black to try to throw off some of the hordes of tourists who congregated at their stoop. A few years ago, the (new?) owners painted the door back to the bright blue shown in the movie. I opted in my portrait (for obvious reasons) not to reprise Spike’s pose from the scene in the film where he steps out before the gaggle of photographers.
Mother and daughter walking along in Notting Hill.
Our feet had taken a beating so we hopped on one of the double deckers and made our way back across town. These big buses are like schools of dolphins making their way up and down London streets. The drive across Oxford Street was other-worldly with the pre-Christmas decorations having just gone up. It gave me the feeling that we were on some sort of inter-galactic journey.
The crowds were thick coming in and out of the Oxford Circus Tube stop. We traveled on towards our lodging in South London. My Samsung watch was giddy in announcing that I’d covered more than 26,000 steps that day!
The following day I got up early and slipped out of our lodging solo to chase my college memory of living in London. I made several train connections until I emerged from the Baker Street tube stop.
Our house was on Nottingham Place. I had THOUGHT that I knew the address — #12 stuck in my head — but when I arrived, I realized that the side of the street that I lived on had ODD numbers. So now, after all this time of anticipation, I realized that I wasn’t even sure which property it was! I tried to see if I’d remember by sight.
So I took a photo in front of #27.
And then for good measure in front of these.
But I have since found out, having contacted a friend who also was there that year, that we lived at 37 Nottingham Place, which is now the Nottingham Place Hotel.
Luckily, I had taken a picture of that address too! It’s this house above.
And I believe my room, which I shared with Mitch, was this one . . .
Although given how well I remembered just the location of the house itself, it’s just as likely that Mitch and I were in any of these rooms!
My next quest was to see if I could find the Queen’s Head pub where I had worked the bar for 4 months. The pub hadn’t turned up in Google searches, so I feared that it may well be one of the countless pubs that have closed in recent years. I asked one longtime resident on the street and he had no idea where it was, confirming my suspicion.
While I couldn’t see the pub, there was one memory that will forever be seared in my memory. One day as I was working the bar, an older gentleman came in. He walked right up to the bar and announced to me “I’ll have a pint of bitta!” With a nod I drew off his pint, placed it on the bar, and spoke for the first time. “That’s 97 pence, please.” With that he looked at me and exclaimed “You’re a Yank!” using the moniker for Americans that I associate with bygone years. “I am,” I replied. “Well,” he said, lifting his pint to me, “here’s to you. We’ll never forget what you did.”
“We’ll never forget what you did.” It was an extraordinary, emotional moment for me. Here was this man who I understood was personally thanking me for the contributions, for the sacrifices, for the valor of American GIs in World War II. (Perhaps he also had the first World War in mind too.) He expressed and entrusted his gratitude, to me, in a way that joined me personally to the men and women of a prior generation who gave, in many cases, their all. It was almost as if he had placed me in their shoes. After he said those words, I don’t know what I did next. I don’t know what I said in return. I don’t know if I shook his hand. Hell, I don’t know if I saluted — so stunned was I by the realization of what he was expressing — to me, through me.
With that memory coursing through my mind, I turn south on Regents Street and took the walk that I had taken numerous times 34 years ago, all the way to where Regents Street curls into Piccadilly Circus, and then down to Trafalgar Square.
Along the way, I was glad to see that 007 was still ready for action!
I wended my way to Trafalgar Square. The plaza in front of the museum is a beehive of activity as tourists and locals meet up, street artists perform, protesters manned petitions boards, a preacher speaks, someone asks for some change.
That day, Yoda was also holding court.
With Janet and Elyse hanging out at another spot in the city, I took the opportunity to go into one of my favorite places in London, the National Gallery, that borders the square.
Entering the spacious, light-filled galleries fill me with a sense of peace and well-being. In writing this, I realize that I feel nurtured and fed in places like this when I’m surrounded by such amazing expressions of creativity from across the centuries.
I expected to see an array of famous works, but I was particularly looking forward to visiting with paintings by my favorite English painter, the Master of Light, Joseph William Turner (1775 – 1851). I wasn’t disappointed.
The painting above, Sun Rising in the Vapor, hangs in a small round room of four paintings. The museum staff person manning that space helpfully said to me that Turner made a specific request that the National Gallery display two of his paintings alongside two works of the painter who had inspired him the most. That painter, unknown to me, is identified as simply “Claude” (1604-1682). So in this circular room, alongside the two paintings by Turner, are two paintings by Claude, including the one below. The influence is clear.
Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba by Claude.
In another room close by, there were a couple other Turners that made me want to just stand still and breathe them in.
The Evening Star, 1830.
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up (1838)
Here’s how these paintings are hung, with another Turner to their right.
I reluctantly moved on and was stopped short in the next gallery by a Cezanne, the likes of which I’d never seen.
I was more familiar with Cezanne’s more geometric renderings of landscapes and still-lives, but his Bathers (circa 1894) commanded the gallery. A few steps further and I saw a Monet that gave me my best view of Big Ben that I had had that week!
The Thames Below Westminster, 1871 by Claude Monet.
Then a number of patrons, in the tech style that is our world today, captured Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for posterity — or at least Instagram.
But my greatest treat, unbeknownst to me, yet awaited.
I had seen signs on the walls pointing the way to the gallery with paintings by Caravaggio — my favorite Italian painter. In a way, I love Turner and Caravaggio for the same reason — their use of light. Turner’s can be brilliant and misty whereas Caravaggio (1571-1610) had a flair for the dramatic contrast between light and dark, and then a revolutionary feel for the use of perspective. I crossed into another long gallery and stopped short.
On the far wall was one of my all-time favorites by Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus (1601).
This dramatic scene captures the exact INSTANT that the disciples, who had walked along the road to Emmaus for hours with the resurrected Christ without knowing who he was, suddenly, over the breaking of bed, recognize him. The disciple to the left starts out of his chair and the one to the right is flinging his arms wide, his left hand seemingly coming out of the painting. And then there’s that extended hand of Christ — I almost feel as though I can reach out and grab it.
This 3-D effect, astonishing for a work from 1601, is even more pronounced from this angle.
Having spent a couple hours reveling in the paintings, I stepped out into Trafalgar Square — and my eye was drawn to the famous church on its northeast corner, St. Martins in the Fields. Then I noticed their signage.
I walked up the front steps and entered the church sanctuary. The cross shaped pattern in the stained glass was intriguing. I settled into a pew for some time of reflection and saw this notice . . .
What a heartening witness to the gospel which had caused those disciples in Caravaggio’s canvas to almost jump out of the picture frame.
From St. Martins, I walked 15 minutes over to the British Museum for “a quick peek.” I realize that that’s a rather ridiculous statement given the epic scale of their collection.
But I was short on time, and I wanted to see their atrium which I heard was stunning.
The open space completely encircles the structure to the right. With my curiosity sated, I walked through one other gallery . . .
. . . and then headed out so I could meet back up with Janet and Elyse. As I exited, I was struck by a poster on the tall iron fence that bordered the main entrance.
The poster suggests to me that the museum marketing department is aware that the reputation of the museum’s mammoth collection could be so daunting that it ends up discouraging some from even attempting to see it. So they have a brilliant message about time. Come to the British Museum on your terms, not ours. Use your time as you see fit. It’s quite inviting. I’ll have to go back.
Morning came early the next day as we were catching an 8:00 a.m. train to Edinburgh (or Edinburra!). We caught a bus to a surface train and then took an underground train to get to Kings Cross Station. It was 7:50 when we were coming up from the underground. Because we didn’t have much time to spare, I asked someone exiting the underground the quickest way to get to Kings Cross. He said “Go through the turnstiles and go right, you can’t miss it.” Janet and Elyse went thru the turnstiles but there was a snag with my transit card — I didn’t have quite enough on the card to exit the station. After telling a transit staff member that we were at risk of missing our train to Scotland, he (reluctantly) let me go thru. Then, per my directions, we went to the right. And there he was. The guy who had given us those directions. He had waited for us because he realized he had told us to go the wrong way. “Sorry! You need to go the LEFT,” he said. With a grateful thanks we dashed off in that direction, printed our tickets at the kiosk, and walked down Platform 5 with 4 minutes to spare. Had that man not stopped, we may well have missed the train.
Having had our adrenaline rush for the day, we settled onto the train and turned our sights to the north. It was a gorgeous ride through the English countryside and then up along the Scottish Coast.
The train bridge going into Berwick on Tyne.
And then the train sped to the coast.
A couple guys out on the links.
A starter home on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
We then arrived in the glorious city of Edinburgh.
It’s a city that mixes a beautiful elegance with a certain grittiness of the darkened stones that mark many of the buildings and walks. Our AirBnB was located on one of the mews in the neighborhood above. They were described as “historic tenements.” I assured my wife that that description aside, the inside would be nice!
It seems that people often paint their doors brightly to add a splash of color to the slate palette of the streetscape.
As I walked around the neighborhood, you would catch glimpses of “Arthur’s Seat” — the mountain & cliff formation that seems to stalk the city from every angle.
I saw a number of signs, such as this street sign, that reflected the religious heritage of the region.
And then there are the skies of Scotland which are continuously shifting the decor of the city, almost like scene changes in a play.
On our first full day, we made our way to the Royal Mile, which is, as you’d expect, a mile-long stretch of road that goes along the spine of a ridge in the old city of Edinburgh.
At the lower segment of the Royal Mile, a plaza opens up to the University of Edinburgh, with Arthur’s Seat standing watch.
This spot marks another point of remembrance for me on this trip. My father, who is a pastor, came to Edinburgh to earn his doctorate in philosophy from 1956 – 1958. He has told me many stories of his time in this city — including the one with the Irish Rugby squad. It was late one evening and my dad was in the apartment that he shared with two other seminary students who were also in the doctoral program. They lived on the 3rd floor while the first floor was occupied by their landlords — a kind Scottish couple. My dad heard singing out on the street — it was around 2 a.m. — and he looked out the window. There was a pub across the street and an Irish Rugby team had spilled out into the street and were singing with gusto. My dad and his compatriots filled buckets, opened their windows and sent a cascade of cold water down onto the rugby players below. They, as you would suspect, were enraged and went to the front door and started banging. The wife was awoken and came to the door. When the rugby players angrily described that they had been doused by water by whoever was on the top floor, the lady replied, “No, that’s not possible. My 3rd floor boarders are seminary students!”
Which raises a question for me. Can a memory that’s been passed along to you from someone else become your own? For surely as I stood along the streets of Edinburgh, I could picture the water coming, the fury, the banging on the door, the explanation, the cursing and the laughter from up on the 3rd floor. I was re-living it myself.
Along the Royal Mile, a modern comment along with a pediment from 1606.
Edinburgh, like London, is blanketed with cameras in a nod to modern security concerns today. I appreciated the explanation on this sign and opportunity it provides for citizens to make comment.
As with every city, there were “buskers” along the Royal Mile. This guy was captivating the onlookers with his magic & humor. But I was more intrigued by Ben, pictured below, who was bundled up against the stiff Edinburgh wind and pecking away on a classic typewriter.
This is what Ben’s sign says:
While you wait
Pick any subject
Donate what you choose
Typed on regular/reclaimed paper
My name is Ben”
We continued along until we reached the top end of the Royal Mile which is capped with Edinburgh Castle.
Mother and daughter, with Arthur’s Seat (of course) in the backdrop.
We walked back down the Royal Mile and then that evening explored the Leith neighborhood of Edinburgh where the city comes to the waters edge of the Firth of Forth.
After hiking about, we picked up dinner to enjoy back at our apartment. Janet and Elyse were in for the night but I wanted to have a taste of a Scottish pub, so I bundled up and went over to our neighborhood spot, “The Artisan.”
I was enjoying a pint of Tennent’s Ale when I struck up a conversation with three locals who were (by my estimation) in their mid to late twenties. I was particularly interested to talk to them about their take on Brexit. The Scots had, after all, voted by a large margin to remain in the European Union and so I expected were unhappy that they were now being pulled out of the EU by the majority of English who voted to leave. Just a couple years ago, the Scots held a referendum on whether to seek independence and that referendum failed by a decent margin. Would Brexit revive calls for Scottish independence?
Matthew, Zoey and Edward provided a fascinating perspective on these questions. They noted that when Scotland voted on independence a couple years ago, many Scots voted AGAINST independence because they wanted to remain in the EU as part of the United Kingdom. Scotland had never previously won admittance to the EU as an independent state and many feared that seeking independence could leave Scotland standing alone — outside of Britain and outside the EU since the process of admission is long and uncertain.
But if Britain carries through on Brexit and leaves the EU, my pub partners explained that this would fuel a new drive for Scottish independence. Only this time, the lure of EU membership would be a reason to vote FOR independence rather than against.
Mathew was a bit cagey about all this. While Zoey and Edward had voted NO on Brexit because they value EU membership, Matthew said he voted FOR Brexit because he said that he foresaw that Britain leaving the EU would be a boost to the cause of Scottish independence, which is what Matthew wants most.
That conversation took two rounds of pints. Having had our fill of geopolitics and ale, we bid each other a good night and I headed back to our flat.
The following day we set out for Princess Street, which runs closely parallel with the Royal Mile, but at a lower elevation. One side of the street is busy with shops, offices and restaurants while a bevy of spires dot the view ahead.
The other side of the street has a gorgeous park and then the Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle is up to the left.
This is then a view of the “lower” half of the Royal Mile seen from Princess Street. The spire of St. Giles Church soars into the sky.
And then as we continued to walk, we came to the most profound moment of remembrance for the entire trip. On the park side of Princess Street a memorial display was taking shape to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Individual crosses waiting to be added to the memorial.
This man was painstakingly aligning all of the crosses, measuring their placement with immense care.
The poppy is the symbol of the WW I remembrance because they were, and are today, a common flower in the fields of Flanders (Belgium) where some of the costliest battles took place. A Canadian military doctor and artillery captain by the name of Major John McCrae was serving in Flanders when a Canadian officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on May 2, 1915 near Ypres. Because the unit chaplain had been called away to another site, it was up to Major McCrae to conduct the burial service. Later that evening, Major McCrae, a poet, took pen to paper and wrote the following poem which has become an anthem of the remembrance for the war that was supposed to end all wars.
“In Flanders Fields”
by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
As I walked around town, I then started to notice the poppies. On a lapel.
Even on the grill of a lorry.
The war was officially ended on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. A man at the memorial told me that across Britain on that day, church bells will ring. He said it was a challenge to balance both the remembrance of that horrific tragedy with a sense of celebration of its conclusion. To do so, he said that striking parts of church bells would be muffled in the morning so that the ringing would resemble the dirge of a long march of soldiers. But then at 11:00 a.m., the muffles would be removed, and the bells would ring for joy.
That afternoon, we made our way to Arthur’s Seat. We had stared at it for two days, we needed to climb it.
It was a very windswept day as we made our way up the slope.
Climbing to the top, the city and Firth of Forth spread out before us.
Our National Geographic photographer getting some shots.
Elyse amidst the rugged Scottish terrain.
Down at the bottom we strolled over to the Scottish National Parliament (with the white roof).
We have felt challenged with learning Dutch, but considering the Scottish Gaelic dialect, we shouldn’t complain!
Our visit to Edinburgh was at a close. We collected out bags and made our way to the Waverly Street Train Station. Along the way we passed this building flying the Union Jack and the Scottish flag. What will the future hold for the United Kingdom with Brexit on the horizon?
Our train pulled out of Edinburgh and rolled across the beautiful Scottish landscape as we made our way to Glasgow. We were making the trip because we had an early flight out of Glasgow to Amsterdam the next morning.
We passed the Castle of Linlithgow on our way.
We pulled into Glasgow around dinner time.
We hopped in a cab to get to our hotel which next to the airport. On our way out of the city center we drove past George Square.
Traffic on the highway was thick. Once we arrived at the hotel and got settled in, Janet and Elyse got some dinner. They were ready to settle in for the evening. I was interested in getting more of a look at Glasgow so I walked over to the airport to catch the shuttle bus into the city.
I walked into the terminal just to confirm the location of our check in, and the sign below caught my eye.
Specifically the reference to the “Prayer Room.”
So I took the lift up a level to check it out. I found a lovely prayer space, filled with religious materials from an array of traditions.
There was directional guidance for Muslims.
And then I saw another clock. It was altogether different from the one at the outset of our journey back in Amsterdam. This one stood in a plexi-glass frame on a small side table in the room. “I only have five minutes . . .”
As a pastor, I was struck by the sensitivity of this message. Someone evidently had thought that a person might find their way to this prayer room only to discover that they had no idea how to pray. And so here is a simple guide, inspired, as it says, by the East Midlands Airport Chaplaincy. One of the things I appreciate most is how the instructions guide the person who only has 5 minutes to spend the first minute in silence. To listen. To find a place of center. And then follows suggestions for minutes 2, 3, 4 and 5.
This is then complemented by a second thoughtful guide on how to pray for someone. It’s simple, and seems like a prayer that could be offered in many traditions.
I had more than five minutes. So I settled myself, began by listening, and then continued on in prayer.
I emerged from the prayer room and the terminal and found the shuttle for downtown. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking along the streets of Glasgow.
I returned to George Square which was bathed in soft light . . .
. . . walked beside this library with it’s canopy of lights . . .
. . . and ambled by St. Georges Tron of the Church of Scotland. I didn’t know at the time that this place would take on more meaning for me in another couple hours.
It’s often said that Glasgow plays second fiddle to its more glamorous cousin Edinburgh. Maybe this public relations campaign is responding to that. Edinburgh may have the Royal Mile, the Holyrood Palace, the Edinburgh Castle, etc., but Glasgow has it’s people (and from my view, plenty of beautiful sights too).
I strolled along a pedestrian way until I found a restaurant to my liking and enjoyed a lovely meal. I had a book and so ate at a leisurely pace. It was about 10:00 p.m. and time to head back to the hotel. I walked back past St. George Tron and my eye was drawn to a guy wearing a sweater that said “Street Pastor.”
He then turned and opened the doors of the church and went in. Curious about what this ‘Street Pastor’ did, I followed him inside. (Plus, I saw a chance to look at their sanctuary!)
His name is Bruce, and he volunteers on many Saturday nights from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. to serve the people in downtown Glasgow who are in need. “We don’t preach to people,” Bruce said, “we just listen, care and help.” That’s refreshing, I thought. At that point, two police officers walked through the door and turned into the sanctuary. We followed them in to this beautiful space.
The police officers took a seat off to the side while Bruce and I, along with his co-volunteer Mary, took a seat in The Wild Olive Tree Cafe which is in the back of the sanctuary. They got me some tea and we talked about their experiences on the streets of Glasgow. They aren’t members of St. George Tron, but the church has opened it’s space for this ministry. And the police department started getting involved when they realized that the Street Pastors weren’t there to evangelize, but to serve anyone in need in practical ways. Another woman walked by and Bruce noted that she was their first aid volunteer.
I asked if I could mention them in my blog and include a photo of the team. They were happy to do that and asked one of the police officers to snap our picture.
With that, I wished them a good night and Godspeed and went to find my bus back to the hotel.
Morning came early, but thankfully it was just a short walk to the airport. We checked in and made our way to the gate. Along the way I saw a grandfather type with a bit of severe countenance sitting on a chair holding two over-sized stuffed animals. It would have been a great picture, but we needed to get on board.
The flight was fine and soon we found ourselves back on the ground in Amsterdam. As we came off the jetway, I saw that same man holding the two big stuffed animals, appearing just as grumpy as before. I said, “Looks like you’re making a special delivery.” He sighed and said with a weary voice, “Yes, to the Philippines!” And then I understood.
We took the 10 minute train ride from Schipol into the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station where we would catch our train to Groningen. Elyse stood guard over the luggage as Janet and I grabbed coffees and other provisions for the final leg of this trip.
Provisions secured, we made our way up to the platform and our awaiting train.
The sunshine was bright as we zipped across the Dutch countryside.
As we made our way, it seemed as though we had been gone longer than just a week. We had had a wonderful time together exploring, savoring, walking, eating and just taking it all in.
I thought back over the memories I had pursued from my time in college in London and of my dad’s days in Edinburgh. And I pondered the weight of the remembrance that was awaiting us on November 11th. It’s been a full century since that conflict was silenced. Those who perished in it and those who lived through it are long gone. The remembrance of what they experienced and what they hoped for has been entrusted to us.