I wake at 5:30. I have slept in. Again.
“There’s a meeting at the Abbey at 10am where all the buskers get together to book and organise their spots: The Abbey Churchyard is the bit in front of the main door I believe.” Chris also sends me a local council’s code of conduct, for buskers and some church contact information. Brilliant. Facebook is working for once!
I have a very large and lovely Breakfast and leave the B & B around 9:00am. I want to be at the Buskers meeting.
The traffic is bad and the road system is bonkers in Bath. I miss the meeting.
I call my old friend (he is 70) Robert hicks who lives in bath. He is an old brethren boy and in the publishing industry and he has been it, seen it and done it. He wants to take me to lunch and arranges to meet me at his offices in town at 12:45pm.
I park the car. It’s £1.50 for 30 minutes! What!
I rush down to the Abbey and make contact with the head verger. I know I won’t get inside but want permission to preach at the front of the church. The Roman baths are directly to the right and its an exceptionally great spot. Bath looks different to the time myself and Bridget lazily walked its streets and perused its old book shops.
The Rector of the Abbey, now a parish church, is on holiday. ( Do the Clergy ever work! ) In fact none of the clergy are available. A note left for me by the poor bugger left to run the shop, who has had to rush out on urgent Pastoral business says “You can speak in front of the church if you wish, but check with the buskers and don’t mention us as I can’t get permission to be associated with you”. Noted.
Alison who works in the Cathedral. ( and don’t get me wrong – everyone I have met in a Cathedral is helpful and nice ) gives me an interview. One day, I may even actually meet a Dean!
I rush back to the car and this time move it to the Southgate parking area. The plush shopping area is looking very swanky indeed.
I bump into two Bobbies and tell them what I am doing and ask them if I can speak in Southgate Square shopping area. I mean, it is packed! They say yes AND I can use the PA unit as well, providing that the sound does not extend beyond 40 meteres. Bath has some interesting street rules. They say I need to tell Southgate security what I am doing, They are very informative, helpful, laid back and and nice. No they don’t want to be interviewed. The smaller Bobby does not like his own West Country accent. The Large Bobby I think is just not interested.
I hunt down the security guard the Police point out to me. I explain everything. She takes me to her manager. I explain everything to him. He gives me a number to call. I ring. I explain everything to her…. She will get back to me.
I am off to Café Neros. An Americano and a power socket. I ring the local paper the Bath Chronicle. I explain my story. I tell them I will be speaking in the public square in the Southgate shopping area at 3:30 on 1st Chronicles. They will send down a photographer.
I ring two large churches. Guess what? No answer.
I ring two other large charges. Guess what? No Pastors are available to talk.
…..Honestly, this lack of human connectivity is just mental.
I meet with Robert Hicks (70) at his offices at 12:45 and he kindly shows me his publishing companies operation and then takes me around the corner for a Thai curry. He chats up all the women. They love it. Robert just wants tell them about Jesus. He gives me an interview and after a full lunch, I am ready for a lie down in a dark room.
I go to the front of the Abbey and wait until the Buskers (in Bath these Buskers are good! I mean brilliant musicians) are changing over. I go over and explain what I would like to do and then offer to give them a tenner for just ten minutes of their hour. They are not interested. I mean they are nice about it, but are not interested.
I sit back down and get talking to a severely disabled woman. I interview her.
At the end of the busker’s time slot I stare over into their collecting hat. They have sold CD’s and I reckon there is probably over £50 in the hat. This a prime tourist spot. They are gonna make a lot of money today. No wonder they did not want to give up their pitch for a tenner.
I get my stuff and go set up in the square. There is a homeless guy sat on the bench. He has a camouflage Jacket and says he’s up here to see a mate and he’s just left the army. I enquire as to which regiment and he says “Nah mate, the Salvation army. I’m sick of the soup kitchens.” I interview him.
Interestingly every homeless person I have interviewed, blame their lack of housing on the influx of foreigners. Right or wrong, they feel ostracised by their own country and see no hope of finding employment or housing. Mind you, as far as my present and short experience has shown me, only an exceptionally small percentage would actually be employable. I offer him a tenner to film me. He is up for it. I then realise I have left my Microphones in the underground car park. Deep sigh. I get the geezer to keep an eye on my board and my PA and then run back and down the stairs to get the Mics. I cannot find the car! I am completely disorientated. I go to the floor above, waving my key fob in the air and pressing the unlock button to see if I can get the lights on the car a flashing. I wonder if Wesley ever lost his horse in an underground stable? Of course not, Wesley had it easy! Certainly no flippin’ traffic cameras clocking his galloping horse.
Ten minutes of frantic running around means I eventually find the car. I get the Mics and run back to the square. Again, I bet Wesley didn’t have to do a lot of running around. He had it so easy. Horse and Bible. Simple. My mind is running away with me..http://www.horseandbible.com. That’s right, if I Learn to ride, I would hire a horse and horsebox and in each city, ride into town and preach from the saddle. People would certainly be willing to stop and listen. It would be a great point of elevation to speak from. I could get one of them carry around your shoulder PA’s. Yup, that’s it, the next time I do this, I am bringing a horse. I get back to my stuff and the homeless guy. The more I think about the horse, the more I see it as being a focal point of itinerant ministry. I have the hat. All I need now is the horse. I am moving into mental mania.
The Bath Chronicles photographer calls me and says that he is stuck in traffic and one of the security guards wants to know what’s going on? I explain again. I do a lot of explaining. Yes but “have I got permission?” I explain again, slower this time, and tell him that since no one has called me back, I am assuming all is ok. The ‘walkie talkie’ is out. I think my time is running out?
Just then the apologetic Photographer arrives and I perceive that it is now or never. Let the Naked Bungee jumping begin.
I begin. I introduce myself to the crowd. The PA is working well. (We are good friends now) LOTS of people are now listening up. Especially all the school kids who are sat on the deck chairs and in groups on the ground all around. I tell them about the Capital city of Jerusalem and how Ezra the scribe is concerned about restoring its spiritual heart. I speak about the importance of a cities heart, how our cities hearts are often damaged (Bath does not look outwardly damaged mind you) and of course about our new hearts through Jesus and the need for them. I recommend to them, Jesus the creator of new hearts.
I stand on a bench and start singing Boney M’s “By the Rivers of Babylon” I have the Y Factor. I do a crap job of both the song and the message. All the while the Bath Chronicle guy is in my face taking pictures. It looks exciting. I am a super star. I wonder what they will say? I wonder what the headline will be. I wish I had the horse.
Immediately after this, a guy comes out of a store to complain. I tell him I have permission of the Police and Southgate security. He says he never got the email. I say “well really that’s not my problem.” He is really annoyed at this and goes off saying he is going to “Call security!” I pay my homeless camera man the tenner and he’s gone! He does not want to hang around for security. I haven’t got long and need to do some immediate follow up if possible. So, I get my video camera and go for it.
I speak to a girl who says she left church because she wanted to have sex. She had been baptised but couldn’t stay celibate. She had a child when she was 15. She is still bonking around, but will go back to church when she gets husband. Mental.
I speak to the teenagers. They give me a video interview. I sense that over time there would be the possibility of dialogue and discussion. I do not have the time.
If I had a horse it would be different. The security people could never get me.
However, the ticket machine for the car park is broken. All the security guards are on it. Which means they are not on me. ( Mental note – get a horse or create a distraction to keep security guards off you. I think. I think…’Why didn’t Paul have a horse?’ )
I pack up and go.
Robert Hicks has asked me to call him at 5pm. He knows I need a Pastoral job and a housing from November 26th and he knows of a church in Bath looking for a Pastor. One of my mentors thinks I am doing a Jonah in running away from the Pastorate. I ring the moderator, who gives me the church secretaries number. I ring the number, talk and tell. He has not the time to meet me. I move on. Turrah!
In the car, the call has me thinking to myself that I really should be spending my time looking for a job and accommodation and not trolling around Britain. Churches take forever in coming to a decision about who or who hasn’t been called. They are so often so dishonest with themselves about who they ‘call’ because God has called them. I think of the average maybe, 40-50 applications, that any decent UK church might get for a Pastorate. Only 1 is called. That means 49 of them think they are called? That means 98% of all Pastoral applications don’t actually know the voice of God when they are applying for positions! This is frightening statistics. Or maybe, just like me, 100% of them are just looking for a job. It’s weighing on my mind though because, ten days after this mission we are homeless and jobless. I need to be concentrating on getting me and Bridget sorted out and not doing this. The deathly conversation with the church secretary regarding the pastoral position has left me a bit fed up. I wish I had never called.
I check my email on my iPad. Another church has emailed me to say that I have not been shortlisted ref my Pastoral application. I am moving into depression.
There is another email from Sandra, the girl Friday from Plymouth, who has put me in touch with a Methodist Minister who I call and he suggests that I contact ‘The New Rooms’ in Bristol. This is Methodism’s very first chapel in the whole wide world. Wesley’s wooden pulpit is there.
I ring Gary, the overseer of Welsey’s New Rooms in Bristol, who, despite having to collect his heavily sedated wife from the Hospital (she has just had an operation) thinks he might be able to fit me in over lunchtime. Apparently the whole day is being given over to a celebration of a new Methodist hymn book.
I am done in Bath and it’s only a short drive to Bristol. Maybe half an hour. I will go there tonight. I still have not booked a B & B. Getting the time to do this is an impossibility and at the end of an already stressful day, it is proving to be another waste of my time and cause of great frustration. I need to get this fixed.
Shortly, I am driving around Bristol. It is grossly run down. Graffit grunge is everywhaere. Someone thinks this looks cool. It looks awful. Bristo has an evident multicultural population. Apart from the very bad city centre traffic, inadequate centre road system and dumb light signalling, it is as different from the City of Bath (just half an hour down the road remember) as you can possibly imagine. I have been to Bristol many times over the years on business. I don’t like the place. It seems even more dirty now. It seems to be a dumping ground for the refuse of society. It seems to have no inward investment whatsoever. The word ‘ABANDONED’ seems to be written in the skies over Bristol. But then, what do I know?
I need help, so after finding a place to pull over in the St Paul’s area, I stop and ask a black guy if he knows of any B & B’s around here?
He smiles, lifts up his hands out of his pockets and spreads them wide in expectant prayer and says “Sure, but what’s in it for me?”
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME! I am only asking for bloody directions! WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME!
“I’ve not eaten for ages mate and I need some money for a burger, have you got any change?”
‘Have you got any change?’ is the British equivalent of “Buddy can you spare a dime?” I give him a fiver for a burger meal. It’s full of carbs and fattening and it’s just what he needs. We begin to talk. After a frustrating journey, depression over joblessness, not being able to find a place to sleep, I now know, I mean I really know, that all the seemingly pointless driving around Bristol has been to bring me here, to this very spot, to meet Roger, I have a message for him and it’s not from 1st Chronicles.
Roger (not his real name) came out of Prison in March this year. It’s September now and he’s been homeless for 6 months. I smell the booze on his breath. His shaved head shows years of trouble. Indents, scarring, bald patches where no stubble grows. He is alone and maybe in his early thirty’s. So, with a prison record, crap clothes, maybe an alcohol problem, smelling a bit fruity, no real CV, no home address, and no money, Clifford has two hopes of getting a roof, food on the table and profitable work. No hope and Bob hope.
Roger’s pregnant girl friend was beaten up by some geezer a few years ago. She lost the child. Two months later, the man was spotted in the street and so Clifford got his gun out of the car (he was a very naughty boy back then – with a girl friend, apartment and income) and went and read the guy his horrorscope. And that’s not a miss-spelling! He did not shoot him, but he was arrested with ‘possession of firearms with intent.’ After serving two years of a six year jail term, he was out and homeless. I was nearly in tears. The hopelessness of it all which was etched all over his far looking face was overwhelming.
Years ago another Pastor had prayed for him and ‘got to him’. I don’t think he was saved. I could not tell him the gospel. Right there and right then, it felt so inappropriate. His face was the very picture of a desperate lostness and longing, like a sailor who has been long looking out to sea and is despairing for the arrival of long promised hope which has never come, who, suspecting now that all is lost and it probably never will arrive, but just can’t resign himself to that awful fact. You might think this was the most appropriate time to tell him about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for him. But it did not feel right. You weren’t there. I was.
I did tell him however the message that was on my heart. “ Roger, I am here for you right now to tell you that God is for you and not against you. He is on your case. He is for you and not against you. There is hope. Start speaking to him more and He will lead you on one step at a time. Other people will come, but it will be one step at a time for you to get out of this predicament. God knows about you, he cares, is on your case and is for you not against you.”
He thanked me. We shook hands. He repeated the directions he gave me to the hotels and we parted. He put his hands in his dirty pockets and walked away. I am in bits. Roger’s story is repeated ten thousand times over in Britain and our streets seem to be crawling with Government neglect whilst the new Cathedrals of consumerism are stalked by walkie talkie connected, woolly pullied, camera conscious, wanna be coppers, all protecting the places of sale. I remember in the riots how it seemed that the high streets burned but the ‘palaces of plenty’ were very well protected. Meanwhile, the bits of Britain’s brokenness, the human shrapnel of despondency from the exploded bombs of ‘a don’t really give a shit society’ are strewn all over our streets. And it’s going to get worse.
I found the Premier Inn. I was tired and eventually found a place to pull over on some double yellow lines to rush in and find out if they had a single room. The hotel looks like an old converted office block. It’s grey and dirty. The immediate surrounds of the entrance are black and filthy. The windows are dusty, the reception is like an unswept bus stop. It’s like arriving at a portable check in desk in Nowhere Nebraska. Unbelievable.
The room is £80 per night and breakfast is extra. Lenny Henry never mentioned that in the adverts. I say “No thanks” outwardly, but am thinking in more far colourful terms inwardly. It has to do with backsides. It’s 8:30pm at night and they want £80 for this!
There is now enough juice in my iPhone to ring Bridget and I grumpily ask here to find me a B & B please. Meanwhile, I get in the car, get off the yellow lines and just drive. Soon I am pulling into a smaller ‘Best Western’ I negotiate a room WITH Breakfast for £55 and unload my stuff and trudge up three long flights of steps to the nice room. Bridget had found me B & B’s in Bristol for tonight and again in Oxford for tomorrow night. She wants to know what’s wrong with me? I tell her I will call her later. She’s a bit concerned.
My mouth feels like a Badger’s bum. After nearly two weeks of just brushing with water, or the odd squeeze from someone else’s tube, I walk across the road and finally get some toothpaste…..and a big bar of Cadburys Whole Nut for a £1. I eat it all. It is my first bar of chocolate in months and as a chocoholic, I have now downed my fist large Vodka. Who cares. Thankfully I only bought one bar. I bring the toothpaste and put in my washbag where I find another tube I have been carrying all the time! How did I miss that?
The rooms WiFi connects but is rubbish. I cannot get on ‘You-Twit-Face’ at all! But I can get on Skype and my buddy from Boston wants to know about the day. I type him about Roger, he says
“ for every one you dialog with and give food and/or money, I think you must endeavour to share the full gospel with them. Whether you perceive an open heart or an utterly shut one, if nothing more than the fact that we might be poor judges of that. Who am I to give advice to you ?? But, please consider this :the Gospel is the hope in these hopeless situations. Bring the full Gospel to every meeting and you will leave no regrets.”
He is so right. This is good advice.
After this conversation, I somehow I manage to connect to You Tube and begin the oh so slow upload of what video I have taken. When I try and find the Video of the proclamation in Bath earlier today however, it is not there! The guy I gave ten quid to for his services, pointed the Camera but never pressed the record button. I am speechless.
It’s late. I ring Bridget. I tell her that this 66 trip is “Bloody ridiculous and I really should be spending my time looking for a job and accommodation for us.” She tells me that she has been speaking with a magistrate, retired prison governor, former police inspector and housing authority officer, all doing the same course as she is doing. Apparantly, the fact that we have given notice because we cannot pay our £850 pound a month rent means that we are voluntarily homeless and so
a) subsequently we will get no help to find housing and
b) there is no blinking housing available anyway.
I tell her “That’s it darling …this is ridiculous….I am going to put all my efforts into looking for a job and accommodaiton! The churches don’t give two hoots about what I am doing, you cant even get hold of anyone in authority, and no one dares makes a simple decision, I am depressed at meeting all this dross on a daily basis, and no bugger gives a toss anyway! I need to just drop this and look for a proper job” Bridget speaks slowly now. Her voice lowered. “No. You will not. God has told you to do this so you will do it. This is important. You must complete this 66 Cities trip no matter what. Now, stop talking, stop thinking, stop making wild declarations and go to bed immediately.”
I don’t know what I would do without her….
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