Bell-ringers often opt to be in odd places: up in dusty belfries balancing on bell frames; in cold, dark and damp spiral staircases climbing wearily in the hope of pulling a rope; outside on a Sunday morning. It should come as no surprise, then, that five of them could be found sleeping rough last Friday night in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral.
For oddity, perhaps; but also for charity: they were there to raise money for the Robes Project, which provides food and shelter to the homeless in south London over the winter months.
As they bedded down on a grassy knoll, beside a cathedral courtyard strewn with boxes, roll mats and tarpaulins, Trish enthused: “I hear the forecast is good”. Cue rain. At first, a patter of raindrops that fell rather tunefully onto the sleeping bags; then a more consistent rainfall, of the type that no amount of body-wriggling and sleeping bag-readjustment could shield them from. Only Katy, who had managed almost to mummify herself, looked protected, although David – famous for his ability to sleep anywhere and at any time on holy ground – thought her efforts quite unnecessary.
All the while, the sounds of London heralded their night’s journey. Fittingly, the bells tolled for them. 10 o’clock, 10:15, 10:30… Midnight…2:30….. How grateful they all were that the steeple-keeper of Southwark (one J. S., one of their own!) had not removed the chimes. One fears for J. S. – Andrew mentioned reprisals more than once….
As the rain persisted, four of them moved into the haven of the cathedral. Poor Morag – just recovered from the ’flu and with a foil sheet that more resembled a silver flag than an insulating body-warmer. Poor Trish – still wearing a skirt. Poor Katy – freezing with only seven layers. Poor Douglas – told by Katy what to do. Only hardy (read unaware) David and brave (read lazy) Andrew stuck it out outside. Their mettle was rewarded by Douglas’ shamefully (read shamefully) wide eyes in the morning.
Bacon rolls scoffed, they gathered in the morning like climbers on a mountain top for a team photo, holding the box of chocolates which Alison had kindly offered them the night before. No summits were reached, but they had raised £… and not a few smiles.
Roll on next year….
Article by Douglas James
Note – you can still donate to this cause here