I went to visit the church where we'll be performing in ten days time, and it's a very special place. St Mary At Hill is a Wren church, situated just off Eastcheap, which is a stone's throw from where Pepys lived in Seething Lane. It had all of its pews removed following a devastating fire in the 1980s, so has a rather barn-like "puritan" vibe. Its walls are merely whitewashed and there’s a distinct lack of clutter in the shape of religious icons, probably because the space is also used as for karate once a week! It’s only drawback are the enormous curtains hanging behind the alter, which are a touch on the Laura-Ashley-circa-1986 side. They’re the sort of curtains which could pull you in and haunt you forever, like the Yellow Wallpaper... except they’re green.
What struck me most of all about the space was its positive atmosphere. I often walk into churches expecting the hackles to go up on the back of my neck, but it feels incredibly vibrant and quite electrifying; a very unexpected church atmosphere.
I came home and went for a run on Hampstead Heath as the sun melted into a deep blue sky. I felt very privileged to be there. Everything at the moment feels a little magical. I often feel optimistic in autumn, but there’s something else going on that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like things have come into focus. I’m intensely aware of the past, but simultaneously hopeful for the future. Perhaps it’s because I’m about to start proper work again. Perhaps I’m excited about the concert. The heath smelt incredible; a mix of wood smoke, and the dark green odour of rotting leaves and wet undergrowth.
Sunday 17th November, 1661, and Pepys went to church - twice - but slept through the second sitting. The sermon focussed on the praise of religious music, and the preacher’s objection to men wearing hats in church. I’ve never understood why it seems perfectly acceptable for women to wear hats whilst worshipping. I can only assume it’s religious people, once again, looking on women as second –class citizens. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they look pretty and keep quiet. Ghastly.
I think Pepys was mortified to have slept his way through the service, but he didn’t remain embarrassed for long and was soon back at the house, eating, drinking heavily and being merry. Puritan who?