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31 August 2010

by John Wall

Chips with everything

I FOUND myself lying on the floor in our disabled lavatory, trying to repair a seat that some child had managed to dislocate, and thinking “This so isn’t in my job description.” Not only that, but I was dressed in yellow T-shirt, red stripy apron, white butcher’s coat, and chef’s hat, with my chip-pan prop lying a few feet away. Explanation? It was Chil­dren’s Summer Holiday Club time again, with the theme “The Seaside Rock Chip Shop”. I was the Corona­tion Street Fred Elliott look­alike, rejoicing in the name “The Deep Fat Friar”.

Before term had ended, I had bounced around our primary-school assemblies asking: “Do you like making cool stuff?” “Yes!” “Do you like playing games?” (louder) “Yes!” “Do you like running around and screaming a lot?” (even louder) “Yes!” “Do you like stories?” “Yes!” (but with a few “Noes”) “Do you like dancing?” “Yes!”(but with a few more “Noes”) “Above all, do you like . . . (dramatic pause) . . . CHIPS?” Cue pandemonium.

Well, it worked; and so we found ourselves with getting on for 40 Moulsecoomb children in full cry following the Scripture Union’s programme “Seaside Rock”.

We heard about the call of Peter and the disciples (the children made fish masks); we looked at the parable of the wise and foolish builders (they made sandcastles); Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (they had a great time tying each other up in bandages); the Last Supper and Peter’s denial (they decorated bis­cuits); and, finally, the breakfast on the shore, and Peter’s rehabilita­tion (the children plaited nets and made sheep). “It just keeps getting better,” wrote one seven-year-old boy on a Post-it on our “What I Liked Today” board; but the thing I will remember happened on the last day.

I had just finished the story of Jesus on the beach asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?” I told them that we were like those first apostles, called to go out and tell people about Jesus. There was rapt attention, eyes were round with wonder, and there was a meaningful silence. I began to congratulate myself on a good bit of vicaring, when a plaintive voice rang out: “Yes, but when do we get the chips?” A child after my own heart.

New Age garden

THEY are closing the Lewes Road Community Garden. Lewes Road runs from the centre of Brighton, beginning with a gracious Regency terrace and finishing with the straggling housing estates of North Moulsecoomb, bounded by the A27. It has rather come down in the world, with more than its fair share of closed and dodgy-looking shops; but a couple of years ago, a wonder­ful thing happened.

Halfway along, the derelict site of a former petrol station suddenly blossomed into a sort of communal vegetable plot, with containers made of used tyres, runner beans scram­bling up the chain fences, gazebos, sweet peas and cabbages, and even a composting lavatory.

It is not in my parish, but when I was passing I popped in to have a chat and find out more. They were really friendly and pleased to see me: apparently, they had telephoned the number on the battered old “For Sale” board and got “unobtainable”; so they thought that if no one else was interested, they would have a go with it.

And thus, for the past couple of years, they have celebrated the cycle of the seasons, nodding to Easter and Christmas and (somewhat more haphazardly) St Valentine’s Day, but, unsurprisingly, majoring on the summer and winter solstices (well, this is New Age Brighton).

But now developers want to move in with a new drop-in supermarket. It seems such a pity: it’s a quirky, rather flaky, but well-meaning bit of greenery in the middle of concrete, tarmac, and brick, and gives a little space for people to breathe. I shall mourn its passing.

Wondrous cross

IN OUR own way, at St Andrew’s, we have tried something similar (with­out the enthusiasm for the solstices, though). We extended our church hall, and managed to get rid of a big concrete bank between us and the road, which we have tried to replace with a little planted space.

Our curate, James, has taken it on as a personal project (it’s generally known as “James’s bank”), and some of our congregation have joined in, too. The soil is dreadful, but over the past couple of springs and summers it has gradually been stocked with daffodils and tulips, lilies and roses, shrubs and evergreens.

There was a setback, however, when, in the early hours of Good Friday morning, a person or persons unknown dug up and nicked the largest plants, presumably for an Easter-weekend car-boot sale some­where (the children’s centre, built and run by the community, was similarly done over on the same morning), but, undaunted, we re­planted and carried on.

The most interesting thing that sprouted up on the bank was not a plant, but a wooden crucifix, about two feet high, which suddenly ap­peared one morning, from where we know not. And there, rather surpris­ingly, it has stayed. In an area notorious for things vanishing if they are not nailed down, it has been untouched for about six months. Maybe there is hope for our com­munal green spaces after all.

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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