It has, for some time, been my 'day-off' custom to accompany the fragrant Mrs Vicarage to an establishment nearby for a weekly fix of pig-meat and baby chickens-in-waiting, served with a mug of coffee whose temperature would melt titanium and a plate of fresh bread and butter to really seal the cholesterol deal. That I am now the shape of a modest beach ball is besides the point - and I blame the medication anyway. But, dear reader, it is not the art of breaking the fast that I have deigned to appear and write this grey day.
The establishment in question is situated in close proximity to the Lesser Whitton Jolly's Gyratory and a hastily claimed window seat provides the perfect vantage point for that greatest of all priestly pastimes - people-watching. Yes, you could claim that I ought to be talking to my ever tolerant wife, but gawping out of the window is such a worthy priestly activity. Why? Because at 9am on a normal weekday morning, I am once again reminded what a splendid place I live in with my family.
Last weekend, the goodly folk of Whitton and its environs turned out to celebrate one of the many St. George's that crop up from time to time, with a focal procession mit dragon and Knight-a-Slaying. The streets are lines with families and well-wishers, but rather than the slightly xenophobic undertones that can beleaguer a good "Let's Celebrate Being English", it provided a very real celebration of Whitton.
So, back to my cafe pew. I watch the parents returning from the school run in their 4x4s (because speed humps are very steep these days). I observe the first-shift gamblers entering one portion of the great miasma of betting-establishments that have spawned up the High Street. Yes, I see the lady with her 9am Special Brew and I wonder what her story is. The preschoolers are taken to Costa for a baby-cinno with (on the whole) their mothers who take root until the noontime. The deliveries are made to the shops that punctuate the street and the staff arrive for their days in retail. Some faces are lost in thought, others burdened with the stresses and strains of existence. Some faces are concealing the joys of digital music being piped into the head that follows it. Some faces betray the simple fact that they will miss the train that they hurry towards, while others tell the story of a day of arduous labour in the many industries of London Town.
Each face is a story often untold. Each face represents an account of joys balanced against sorrow, and to sit in my Greasy Spoon of choice is, frankly, one of the best ways to pray for these wonderful people who have had me inflicted upon their spiritual welfare.
I am encouraged by the closed shop units that are starting to fill up, and I worry intensely about the implicit judgement upon this community that so many gambling firms can invest in so many shops in such a small space - I fear for the gambling problem that must overwhelm so many people in an asset-rich-cash-poor place like ours. I delight in the sense of self that Whitton enjoys and projects, the stability of its resident population, so many of whom have graced these streets for decades. It is a matter of considerable reassurance that I have brought my children to a community that suffers very little violence and where that due sense of neighbourliness is not completely eclipsed by the ever present need of self-preservation. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and as a lad from oopt'North, I find that a compelling thing.
As I ruminate behind my bacon and eggs, it is my considered view that as a priest and as a vicar, I landed squarely on my feet with this gig. In all its shades of light and dark, this Whitton is a place that I would struggle to leave.