Wren Rolls 2

A black and white photo of an old building

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This ‘Lock-down’ causes tension in the freedom-loving British breast, as it is also a community-spirited breast.  Apart from when it comes to loo roll and pasta, it turns out.  Forget the community where those are concerned. It’s a survival of the fattest, dog-eat-ditalini world out there.  

As for freedom, I hope that once we’re out of this corona mess some senior police officers have to give an account for the over-enthusiastic way they threw themselves into the whole Stasi-surveillance, individual-shaming, unintelligent interpretation of their role in enforcing the curtailment of our freedoms. Drones with loudspeakers and cameras! Road blocks! Officers rifling through shopping bags with some dimly-perceived concept of ‘essential goods’! If only they had the same zeal for drug dealers and bicycle thieves, both of whom deal in greater wickedness than solitary sunbathers and neither of whom have a statistically significant chance of apprehension. 

Into this hostile environment I set out on my handcycle, looking nervously skyward for drones, in search of Wren churches near my Whitechapel home. 

A picture containing building, train, white, bus

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Here you can see Sir Chris himself, appropriately enough on a building site hoarding, squeezed between the site –something to do with TfL – and some double yellow lines. 

350 years ago Wren was frenetically rebuilding after the great fire; the rebuilding habit never left London, it seems, and those of his churches to survive are all submerged in huge buildings of a less architectural finesse but which I find oddly inspiring.  London seems forever dissatisfied with itself, constantly striving for better, bigger, higher – which is a bit of a shame for her ancient churches, some of which have been consecrated ground since the turn of the last millennium. Once the defining points of the horizon, now it’s hard to get a decent photo of most of them, especially if you want the whole spire. Here’s the best I could do at St Michael, Cornhill:

A church with a clock at the top of a building

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I’m not sure that the fancy bit above the door had much to do with Wren, though, fine though it is. Can you see how all the little fresco heads around the arches are stretching their necks, tiny people in lockdown, each trapped behind a stony port-hole and trying to get a sniff of fresh, free air? 

In front of a sign ‘Fire Exit, Please Keep Clear’, at the foot of the steps to the door to the church, was a neat camp.  In the middle of the day, I assumed the tent was empty and the shoes left protruding were to give the impression of someone being in residence.  

A bench in front of a building

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Before the tent was a book, ‘Prison Diary’ by FF 8282 (doubtless a victim of a cruel and overbearing state; a Russian Gulag survivor? A Tibetan dissident? Venezuelan political prisoner?). A nice touch, suggesting the occupant to be a literary soul and one who recognises the contradictions of the freedom to sleep rough when too often there is no option; that we are all prisoners each in our own way, no matter what liberties or rights we have or claim – yet have them and claim them we must. 

Try telling that to the ‘leadership team’ (as they doubtlessly call themselves) of the Derbyshire or Northampton Police Forces, I thought. Knuckleheads. 

When I got back to my own little Whitechapel prison Mr Wikipedia informed me that FF 8282 is our very own Jeffrey Archer who went to prison decades ago for bribing a prostitute or something. 

They’re still knuckleheads, though.