Models of the characters around the crib are a common sight in churches over the Christmas period. The only problem is that models are static and silent (see photo). The people can’t talk and the animals don’t moo, bleat or whinny. Like the figures described in Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, we can only imagine what they would say if they could speak. We might want to know more about their stories and how they are feeling but there’s no point in asking them. They always hold their peace!
On Sunday, December 8th from 10 am – 2 pm, St Faith’s will be holding a Live Nativity when, in addition to buying gifts, you can see live animals and spend time hearing the stories of actors in costume playing the parts of characters present at the original nativity. The idea came about when Mary Kells, our curate, heard about the Live Nativity at our neighbouring parish of Holy Rood, Stubbington. After seeing what happened there she wondered if St Faith’s could do something similar and, with Holy Rood’s encouragement and helpful advice, Mary proposed the idea to our ministry team and PCC who agreed to give it a try.
At the time of writing this, the arrangements are still in their infancy but, if everything goes to plan, what will be happening? Firstly, after being greeted at our Lowry Room entrance and serenaded by carol singers, you will enter the church to encounter the different ‘Nativity’ stations. Visiting each, you can meet the actors dressed as angels, wise men and shepherds and hear their scripted stories which I’m told will be lively and fun. You’ll also have the chance to call in at the inn and see the stable to boot!
There will be a Christmas tree where, after all this excitement, you can have a quiet moment to write your own prayer if you wish to and hang it on the tree. You’ll then be directed to the Bulson Hall where you can buy refreshments, enjoy some musical entertainment and visit our home-grown Christmas stalls to stock up on your Christmas wreaths etc as well as chance your luck at the bottle tombola or the raffle. The children will have an opportunity to make a Christmas craft item to take home and dress up in Nativity clothes and have their photo taken. Last, but very much not least, there will be an opportunity to interact with the live animals (sheep, goats, giant chickens, colourful bantams, miniature donkeys all supplied by Miller’s Ark, Hook, and a giant rabbit and guinea pig to handle and stroke) outside the church – not inside as in the Christmas episode of The Vicar of Dibley!
We should like to thank Holy Rood, Stubbington for their generosity as well as the Mission Opportunities Fund of the Diocese of Portsmouth for supporting this initiative with a generous grant which will help towards covering the costs and which means that admission will be free with a suggested donation of £3 per person or £5 per family (no matter how large!). Mary’s enthusiasm for the Live Nativity together with all she and her team are doing to make it a success deserves our support. Though different from previous years, I am sure it will prove to be thoroughly enjoyable. Limited space means there will be fewer stalls than usual but Mary and her team were keen to stress how grateful they are to those stall-holders who have supported us at previous fairs and are really sorry to disappoint those who will not be with us this year. Nevertheless this will be a new and exciting venture so do, please, make a note of Sunday, December 8th and come if you can. We really want this to be the first of many similar occasions which everyone in the community will enjoy and want to attend.
NB Times and admission details have been changed from those that appeared in the Big Voice article. These are the correct ones! The only other point to note is that the last entry (to the dramatization and the animals) will be at 1pm although people can linger in the Bulson Hall listening to music, browsing the stalls, eating/drinking, making craft till 2pm.
Arguably St Faith’s church played a vital part in the story I’m about to tell. It was there that RN Captain John Kelly married Pauline whom he first met stacking shelves in the Lee Co-op and whose support and encouragement throughout their married life has been largely responsible, he assured me, for his subsequent success. John was the son of Joan and Gordon Kelly, a submariner who sadly died prematurely on a camping holiday in Spain and would have, I’m sure, been justly proud of John’s achievements.
John and Pauline, both residents of Lee, have recently settled in Beijing where John for the next three years will be the Naval and Air attaché to China, after which he intends to return to Lee and retire after thirty five years Service. Wanting to know more about his meteoric rise in the Navy I arranged to meet him at their home over coffee and biscuits, kindly provided by Pauline whom I remember as a star pupil and amazing gymnast when I was Head at Siskin Junior School (now Alver Valley).
After attending Lee Juniors and Bay House, John commenced basic Officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, learned about life at sea in HMS Bristol during a trip to the Caribbean and, at the Royal Naval Engineering College, Manadon, Plymouth, graduated with a BEng (Hons) degree. Needing to put theory into practice he qualified as an engine room supervisor in HMS Broadsword at Plymouth. His next move, now a Lieutenant, was to HMS Ark Royal where he worked as the Shipwright and Flight Deck Engineer. Also, being the ship’s Guard (parade) Officer, he was part of all ceremonial occasions and once sat next to the Queen Mother at lunch who, as Patron of the Ark Royal, often visited the ship. After leaving ‘Ark’ his next job was to oversee the refitting of HMS Edinburgh during which time their son, Lewis (now a Royal Marine) was born.
Following a Junior Staff Course at RNC Greenwich he spent some time at HMS Sultan as Assistant to the Director of Training, was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and became a parent for the second time to their daughter, Mia, who has recently graduated from Leicester University with a degree in International Relations. From HMS Sultan he moved to Vancouver Island working as the Senior Engineer of the Canadian Pacific Fleet.
A series of moves followed with a spell on HMS Kent, Propulsion Trials Officer at Portsmouth and, now a Commander, four years overseas on secondment to the Sultan of Oman. And so the list goes on until, after three years as Assistant Naval Attaché at the British Embassy in Washington DC and promotion to Captain, he was selected to be Naval and Air Attaché to China spending the time since learning to speak Mandarin.
As for a ‘local boy does good’ story, I can think of nothing more impressive than John’s amazing rise through the ranks. And yet he remains friendly and unassuming as though it was nothing more than doing a job he enjoyed and is still enjoying although, he admits, living in high rise accommodation in the centre of Beijing will be slightly different from living in Lee. I am sure that John and Pauline will be ideal as representatives of the Royal Navy during their time in China. Finally, if you’re thinking of getting married yourself and, wanting it to be followed by a highly successful career, perhaps you too should tie the knot at St Faith’s church. It clearly worked for John and Pauline.
If the Devil finds work for idle hands he won’t have much joy with Karen Jones who works 12 hours daily, six days a week and never has idle hands! Born in Sutton Surrey, Karen moved to Peel Common with her parents in 1972 when she was two years old and has stayed in the area ever since. She attended Peel Common and Bridgemary schools before enrolling on a Catering course at Highbury College where she qualified as a Chef and Silver Service waitress. Her subsequent career involved working at Whitbread’s, the ‘Jolly Roger’ and the ‘Bun Penny’ where she was assistant manager. She is married to Jeffrey, an engineer and, after taking time out to bring up her son, Harry, is now back in harness.
Her present life began as soon as Harry was old enough to be independent and no longer needed a full-time mother. Interested in running her own business Karen set about looking for opportunities and, in 2009, established Jemco, a furniture and home accessories shop which then occupied the same site as her present Fruit and Veg shop. Wondering where the name ‘Jemco’ came from I discovered it was simply invented on a whim with the ‘J’ referring to her surname, Jones,
On learning that Peter Patterson was retiring from All Seasons Fruiterers and wanting to preserve the business for the community, she arranged to take over the shop from him. Unfortunately the venture didn’t work according to plan. After running the shop for a while she was unable to acquire the lease and was forced to either abandon the project or move the Fruit and Veg shop to another location.
Not being one to give up and still having possession of the Jemco premises, she took the opportunity of acquiring the Amstrad computer shop when it closed, moved the Lee Fruit Shop to the old Jemco site and Jemco to the then empty Amstrad building. If that sounds complicated to us, it must have been moreso for Karen but she somehow managed it and now runs both Jemco and the Fruit and Shop with her four assistants, Harry, her son, Josh (the Bookshop owner’s son), Sandy who worked at All Seasons and her ‘Saturday helper’, Erin.
When I asked how she liked to spend what little spare time she has, I was told that she enjoys catching up with her close friends, ideally over a cup of coffee. Other than that it’s all work for her never-idle hands. Before I left I cheekily asked if she would be prepared to support St.Faith’s should the need arise. I needn’t have asked. She already provides fruit baskets and furniture vouchers as raffle prizes for various worthy causes and would be more than happy to do the same for the church. I can only admire her for everything she’s done against all the odds and is still doing. We are lucky in Lee to have such people as Karen who are passionate about keeping the town as a thriving centre and its shops open to serve the community’s needs.
I first wrote about the Friends of St Faith’s in 2016 when Colin Dixon was running the group. Soon after the article appeared Colin retired and for a while the future of the group seemed uncertain. There was even the possibility of there being no future until Tim Austin (pictured) appeared. Tim (one time teacher, naval officer and business consultant) was not a committed churchgoer but loved the building and was passionately keen to see it preserved for prosperity.
The present building, opened in 1933, was designed by two eminent architects, John Seely and Paul Paget (later to become Chief Surveyor of St. Paul’s Cathedral). The design, which was afterwards adopted by several London churches, was unique at the time for being the first church to be constructed on a series of Catenary arches. Quite stunning in appearance and grandeur they have attracted the admiration of many first-time visitors. These and subsequent additions, including the Lowry and Bulson Halls which provide a venue for numerous community activities, make the church a valuable resource for everyone in Lee and a place worth preserving.
So how as a person who rarely attended church did Tim become involved with the Friends of St Faith’s? The simple answer is that having on one occasion attended church with his wife, Pat, he met the vicar who later over coffee in a local café mentioned the need for someone to run and revitalise the group. As a man who’d always loved the building since moving to Lee in 1986, Tim offered to run it himself and at once started stamping his own vision of what the Friends should be doing.
Fond of the saying that “God helps those who help themselves,’ Tim’s first aim was to advertise the group’s existence as widely as possible and encourage those who value the buildings and grounds, churchgoers or not, to become involved. His next task was to establish how best the Friends could help. In the past, as well as raising money, the Friends have taken an active part in mowing lawns and doing practical jobs themselves. With so much money needed to maintain and improve the building, Tim decided that the emphasis should be solely on raising money for experts to do the work and to do this by organising community events and informing the Friends with twice-yearly newsletters on how the money was being used. His aim is to raise and spend as much as possible and to keep reserves to a minimum. This he’s already started doing to great effect.
Stalls at the summer and Christmas Fayres raised enough money with existing reserves to pay for dangerous and encroaching trees to be sorted professionally along with repairs to broken drains and leaking windows. A successful Burns’ Night celebration raised nearly 400 pounds and several events are planned for the coming year. These include two Quiz Nights (Bulson Hall, March 30 and November 30, 7.30 pm), a Fashion Show (date to be decided) and a Musical Evening with four choirs, the Shanty Boys, soloists and, possibly, talented children from Lee Junior school (October 30 in the church, 7.30 pm).
Please make a note of and support these events but, better still, if you value the buildings and grounds, contact Tim (email: email@example.com , telephone 02392 359365) and join the Friends. Under Tim’s enthusiastic leadership there promises to be an exciting future running events and raising funds for a very worthwhile cause.
If you happen to visit the Café at Zero 5 on the airfield and would like to know what’s happening at St. Faith’s there might be some information on display. As a representative on the church Communication Forum I offered to call at the café and ask if we might leave notices there from time to time. On meeting the manager, Lisa Wright (pictured) I was immediately greeted with a warm, welcoming smile and told that she would be happy to receive whatever we wanted to give her. Encouraged by her willingness to help the church I suggested arranging an interview for the Big Voice. The offer was accepted and followed up on a bright, sunny afternoon when, armed with pen, paper and a cup of coffee, I sat outside her on one of the picnic benches while the planes taxied back forth around us.
I wondered what had inspired the café’s name and learned that all airfields have numbered runways according to their position in relation to the sun. Since the café was closest to runway 5, Café at Zero 5 seemed to be an appropriate name. Having had an answer to that question I wanted to know more about its history and how Lisa had come to be the manager. Her career up to that point had already been unusually varied.
Lisa was born in Southampton, has two brothers and a sister, and still lives there after moving several times within the city. She was educated at Weston Park Girls’ school and, on leaving, qualified as a nanny. Keen to have a go at anything she worked during the evenings as a barmaid and later in management roles at various pubs in the area including Winchester and further afield. Aged 21 and living with her partner, Kyle, she gave birth to their daughter, Lauren, who is now 24 and expecting her first child much to the delight of Lisa’s 94 year old grandfather.
After mothering duties, Lisa’s next venture was to join Lloyds bank where she worked as a clerk and in management at branches throughout Southampton. After several re-organisations and having to re-apply for her post on more than one occasion she gladly accepted redundancy. Noticing the lack of refreshments while visiting Lee airfield with her partner who was learning to fly, she learned that a café was being planned and took the opportunity of applying for the post of manager as soon as it was advertised. Her application happily turned out to be successful and once again she was working in a completely new field and clearly enjoying it.
For 10 months while the café was being developed, Lisa ran the catering van parked just outside of the building. The cafe was completed at the end of last May and now opens every day from 10 – 4 attracting a variety of customers from pilots, plane spotters and flying enthusiasts to families and grandparents wanting to occupy their grandchildren after school and during holidays. As well as the main café there is an open-air eating, viewing and play area where there’s plenty to see with planes and helicopters landing and taking off regularly along with the famous Spitfire on days when it’s flying.
If you haven’t been to the Café at Zero 5 yet I can thoroughly recommend its happy atmosphere, good choice of refreshments and, not least, its keen, welcoming, enthusiastic and friendly manager. I wish Lisa every success in the future and feel certain she will attract ever-growing numbers of satisfied customers. Finally, if and when you do call in, look around for information from St. Faiths. There might be something happening there that attracts you.
St Faith’s has always had strong links with Lee Infant and Junior schools and I was delighted when, after interviewing Darren Nickerson, the Junior school headteacher, he suggested that I might return one day to interview some of the children. Always keen to follow up on suggestions I was pleased to accept and duly arranged to interview the School Council representatives.
Arriving at the school I was met by one of the children, Daniel Reid, led by him to where the council was meeting and introduced to the teacher, Sally Graham and the class representatives: Ella Stroulder, Sophie Vail, Amber Bonage, Katie Bethwaite, Anna Fleury, Sophie Gorman, George Scott, Izobelle Claridge and Daniel who’d met me at the entrance (see photo).
I learned from Sally that the School Council comprises children, elected by their classmates, who, through her as the staff representative, can convey suggestions and ideas from themselves and their peer group for the head and staff to consider. Having discovered how it works, I was invited to ask the children whatever I wasted to know.
I thought I’d begin by asking about the changes they would like to see.
The answers were many and varied. Ella was concerned with the plight of children who seemed to be alone at playtimes and needed befriending by asking if they wanted to join in a game or suggesting jobs they could do. Amber wanted napkins to be provided for hot dinners. George hoped for better playground accessories like new footballs and also bigger classrooms! Anna thought break times should be extended. Sophie Gorman wanted more playground equipment while Sophie Vail wanted more things added to the existing play trail/obstacle course. What with better litter bins etc I’m sure the list would have been endless had there been more time.
I was also interested to know if there was any special project the Council was working on and learned that Comic Relief Week was taking centre stage at the time. The children had discussed ideas on how to promote interest, among them selling red noses and other accessories, organising events for the week and writing to the head about the possibility of having a school assembly devoted to comic relief.
It was the children’s enthusiasm for and willingness to be involved in these things that really impressed me. They had recently decided on a national and local charity that the school should adopt and support. Each class through their Council rep had been asked to suggest and vote for two worthy charities. Their suggestions were then counted by the Teacher rep and the two most popular selected. This year the school had chosen to support the Brain Tumour Charity as their National cause and Royal Navy Association charity as their local one. The goal now was to organise what needed to be done and then, jointly, write a letter to parents asking for their support.
School Councils have been operating for several years now, especially in Secondary schools, but this was my first experience of seeing one in action at a Primary school. Sally Graham was clearly pleased with the work they had already done and were planning to do. I am sure that under her caring guidance much will be achieved and that the children will look back on their experience of representing the school with deserved pride and, hopefully, continue to be actively and positively involved in their communities and workplaces throughout their lives..
How time flies! It was in February, 2015 when I first interviewed Richard Dewland, then Director of the Lee Singers (now the Lee Choral Society). St Faith’s at the time was advertising for a new organist to replace the much-loved John Witham who had died in the previous October. I was so impressed by Richard’s infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of music, his vibrant personality and brilliant mastery of the organ and piano that I prayed he would apply for the vacant position but at the time he had other plans. Happily, as things turned out, my prayers were answered and a few months later having altered his original plans he became our new organist and music director.
Music, for me, is one of most enjoyable and uplifting elements in worship and one of the reasons that attracts me to St Faith’s. Building on John Witham’s legacy, Richard has continued to make music an important and integral part of our services. Unlike many churches we are lucky to be blessed with a wonderful pipe organ, a great organist, an adult, newly-robed four-part choir and a junior choir to lead the congregation and sing anthems. But like many churches fortunate enough to have a choir, there is always a need for more singers (especially, though not only, bases tenors, altos and children). It was for this reason that Richard asked me to write on the subject in the hope of enticing anyone in the local community who enjoys singing to join us.
Singing in a choir is known to be beneficial in all kinds of ways. Not only does it provide an opportunity to form new friendships (and St. Faith’s is one of the friendliest churches I know) but it raises spirits after a long day, encourages a sense of well-being and, not least, exercises the grey matter. Richard stressed that some of the music can be a demanding but enjoyable experience and who doesn’t love an enjoyable challenge? The ability to read music is an advantage but not essential especially if you have a good ear and stand next to someone who knows their part! Choir membership also requires a level of commitment – turning up for practices and services etc., though Richard promises to turn a blind eye to the occasional absence!
The adult choir would welcome new members from the teens to adults and meets for practices every Friday from 7-8 pm. The junior choir would also welcome newcomers aged around 7-14 and meets for practices on the first three Fridays of each month. As well as weekly Sunday services (once monthly for the juniors) there are opportunities to sing on other occasions in other places. In the past, for example, the choir took part in the Lee Festival of the Arts and this year on Saturday, 5th of August they will be singing at the 5 pm Evensong in Portsmouth Cathedral. There are also opportunities for the choir and community to listen to music at St Faith’s. Last year we heard the newly-formed ‘Solent Baroque’ and ‘Summer Sounds’ and this autumn the will be choir and organ concerts in September.
To sum up, Richard would love to welcome anyone in the community who would be interested in joining the adult or junior choir – so much so that he asked to include his home email address: firstname.lastname@example.org If you haven’t considered joining a choir before or were once a member and would like to rejoin a choir, please contact him. He’ll be thrilled to hear from you and I’m sure you’ll like him as much as I do. Knowing I love Bach he usually manages to slip in a short piece somewhere in the service just to keep me quiet. But don’t worry if you don’t like Bach. He provides for all tastes. Why not give it a go? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Use it or lose it! I often think how lucky we are to have a book shop in Lee and that it’s still surviving under its new owner, Sarah Veal, not that the transition was easy. As soon as Sarah had agreed to buy the shop her father fell ill with an inoperable brain tumour and her only priority then was to help care for him in his final months. But eventually, on October 27th, 2018, her dream became a reality and the shop was opened for business under her ownership.
Sarah’s infectious enthusiasm and friendliness was immediately apparent from the moment we met. An avid reader from her childhood in Elson, to own a bookshop was always her greatest wish. She was raised in Elson with three younger sisters, Becky (now a police officer in Southampton) Lizzie (Becky’s twin sister, a primary school teacher) and Rachel (a bio-lab Manager at Southampton University). All now married with children, they spend time every year camping together when up to 40 family members enjoy what they’ve Christened ‘VealFest’, with different holiday themes like ‘Really Big Game Show’ and grand opening and closing ceremonies.
On leaving Brune Park School Sarah worked at Lloyds bank serving in Gosport, Lee, Stubbington and other local branches. She married in 1995 and raised three children, twins Josh and Jake, and daughter Jazmine. Josh suffered illness throughout his early years when much of her time was spent on hospital visits and caring for him. Happily all are all now working, Josh at the Lee Fruiterer’s shop, Jake at RAF Odiham and Jasmine in Lee at the Jemco Furniture shop. As Sarah put it, ‘the family are gradually taking over Lee!’ As soon as the children had started school, she worked for a while at home and then part-time at a Beauty Salon in Fareham before spending ten years at Fleetlands.
By now divorced and in a new relationship, her partner, Scott, encouraged her to follow her dream and look for a book shop. Fortuitously Lee came up where Sarah is now enjoying every moment. When I asked what pleased her most about her new venture she answered immediately, ‘I love the staff and wouldn’t change a single one of them and I love meeting and getting to know my customers.’ The staff members she inherited have been really helpful allowing her to settle in and teaching her about the trade. Likewise her customers, many of whom hadn’t realised she’s taken over, have remained supportive and loyal,
Ever hopeful and enthusiastic about the future, Sarah already has plans for the coming year including a Harry Potter night, authors coming in to give readings from their books, various local speakers on different subjects and a children’s Story Time on Saturday mornings. As if this wasn’t enough, she also helps to run the Phoenix Cleaning Contracts with her partner Scott.
Lee is not only lucky to have its own book shop, but even luckier to have a new a lively, lovely and passionate owner. If you haven’t already met Sarah, visit the shop and you’ll see what I mean. All I can hope is that Lee residents will continue to support her and that the Book Shop will continue to thrive long into the future.
I have to admit that I knew very little about the World Day of Prayer and was slightly worried when Ann Conington stopped me as I was about to leave church after the 8 o’clock service and asked if I would write an article about it. Ann (see photo), who is in her eighties but looks much younger, keeps active by being involved in church life. Among other things she is currently Secretary of St. Faith’s Mothers’ Union and has been an MU member since 1960. After a career in as a primary school teacher, deputy head and headteacher (with time out running a Nursery school while her children were young) she finally settled in Lee with her husband, Ken in 2011. Sadly Ken died a few years ago but Ann continues to be active and, being on the committee of the Stubbington and Lee group, was asked together with Alison Jeanneret to host this years WDoP service at St Faith’s church on Friday, March 1st 2019.
The World Day of Prayer has its beginnings in the nineteenth century when Christian women from the USA and Canada concerned for the welfare of women and children grouped together with the aim of offering support through prayer and action. Over time different denominations held their separate days of prayer and by 1897 six denominations formed a joint committee for a united Day of Prayer. In the aftermath of WW1 the first Friday of Lent was established as a joint Day of Prayer which, after spreading mainly from the USA, gradually attracted groups world-wide. In 1930, Helen Kim of Korea became the first woman outside of the USA to write an order of worship for the World Day of Prayer which led to the present practice of different countries writing orders of service each year based on particular themes.
For the Day of Prayer this year, which now always takes place on the first Friday in March, the order of service has been written by the women from Slovenia. Over 120 countries will be taking part in the day beginning in Samoa and travelling across the globe through Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America before finishing in American Samoa 38 hours later.
If you read this in time and would like to be involved, everyone, including men, will be welcomed at St Faiths where the service begins at 1.45 pm. The theme, ‘Come – Everything is Ready’ is based on the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14 v 16-24) and during the service there will slides of Slovenia, Slovenian music, readings written by Slovenian women and prayers for the disadvantaged throughout the world. After the service there will be refreshments in the Bulson Hall which will include some Slovenian delicacies!
Ann with assistance from the Mothers’ Union members and others will have put a great deal of thought and work into making a success of this year’s Day of Prayer. If, like me, you weren’t too sure what The Day of Prayer was about, the service at St Faith’s or one of the other services in the area offers a golden opportunity to find out more. As well as prayer the International WDoP Committee also helps the disadvantaged practically by raising money for great number of deserving causes.
Finally, if you happen to miss this year’s event, apart from praying and supporting those in need throughout the year, you can always get involved on the first Friday of March next year when the order of service, written by the women of Zimbabwe, will be based on the theme “Take up your bed and walk (John 5 v 10-15).
A Man of Many Talents
Having met Sally and Peter Appleton at St Faith’s church, I couldn’t resist asking if I could interview their son, Alistair, known to many as a presenter on the BBC series, Escape to the Country. They kindly agreed and arranged for me to meet him on one his visits home. Duly supplied with hot drinks and cakes we were left to talk for an hour in which I could get to know a little about him, his achievements and interests.
His achievements are many. Suffice to say he was brought up with his older brother, Shaun, in Lee, studied English Literature at Cambridge, spent several years in Poland and Germany, returned to the UK and began his varied TV career whist pursuing his interests in meditation and psychotherapy. More details about his life are well documented on Wikipedia, Twitter and other online sites. With only a short time together I was keen to discover more about the man behind the celebrity persona.
One of his earliest memories was of being taken on a bus aged four from their home in Wooton Road and being given a roll of tickets. He also recalled his time at Lee primary school and being enthralled by the music played before school assemblies. His lifelong love of music was further developed when he joined his brother in St. Faith’s choir where, under John Witham’s direction, he sang in various choral works as well as taking part in the weekly services. He later joined the university choir and other choirs subsequently. During his TV career he has hosted the BBC proms.
At university he came out as being gay, made friends with a young poet and, wanting to develop his interest in European literature and become a poet himself, went with his friend to Poland where, apart from writing poetry, he earned a living teaching English at the University of Gdansk, The relationship never developed and the poet returned to England while Alistair stayed chasing a life of romance, excitement and partying. From Poland he went to Eastern Germany, worked as a translator for Deutsche Welle TV and hosted the channel’s youth current affairs show, Heat.
On returning to England his TV career began in earnest hosting various programmes, appearing on Celebrity Mastermind and acting. He was cast in an episode of Dr Who and attributes his love of drama to his parents who, as long-time members of the Lee Players, took him as a child to their productions. I asked if he’d had any embarrassing moments on Escape to the Country. Those he remembered, like banging his head on low beams and pulling off loose doorknobs were fortunately edited out. On live TV, however, he once forgot the name of the person he was interviewing.
Apart from appearing on Escape to the Country, he currently devotes more of his time to his interest in Buddhist mediation and psychotherapy. He teaches in retreats and classes throughout the UK and often returns to Holy Island, his spiritual home. He studied in Thailand and Brazil, speaks four languages and a little Polish, is a trained psychotherapist and currently sees clients on two days a week in Brighton where he now lives. More on his work including his blog with information on meditation, courses and bookings can be found on his website, mind-springs.org.
For me it was a pleasure just to be with him for all too short a time. For someone so accomplished he was easy to be with, gentle and totally unassuming. Before I left I asked if he minded me mentioning in the article that he was openly gay. ‘Not at all,’ he said, ‘you can make that the central feature. I’m getting married next year.’ Now that was news! I wish them both every success with a long and happy life together.
Minibus to the Mosque
Towards the end of 2018 a group from St Faith’s travelled by car and minibus to the Al Mahdi mosque in Fareham for an evenings’ visit arranged by our curate Steve Dent who has previous links with Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo, the Imam. On arrival we assembled outside and were warmly welcomed by the Imam and members of the mosque who were clearly delighted to have us with them.
The visit began with a tour around the outside of the building which was opened in September 2012 and sensitively designed to blend in with its surroundings. Solar panels and natural underground sources provide all the light and warmth required for the building and the beautifully tended grounds surrounding the mosque are filled with produce, flowers and a well-equipped play area for children.
After the tour we went inside and listened to a fascinating talk on the history of the mosque, the beliefs and practices of the Shia Muslim faith and the meaning of all the symbols on display. When the talk was over we were invited to witness the evening prayers, the last of their five daily prayers.
To aid our understanding we were given printed leaflets with translations of the prayers and explanatory notes on the procedure. The prayers were followed by a refreshment break and a chance to enjoy the oranges, scones, fruit juice and other delights which had been especially prepared for our visit. The evening ended with a question and answer session during which we were encouraged to speak freely and ask whatever we wanted.
My abiding memories of the visit will be the warmth of our welcome, the kindness showed to us throughout our time there and the clear desire on the part of our hosts to further the fellowship between us. They already have strong links with their neighbouring churches and the Interfaith Community at Portsmouth Cathedral. Their own community is thriving with 75 families and 80 children. They are very keen to welcome others to visit their centre. Details of how to contact them, as well as information on some of their activities, can be found at www.almahdi.org.uk/news.
One such activity is the ‘Ramadhan CAN-paign’ organised by the young people of the community. The month of Ramadhan is a time when all of the community, as well as all Muslims, fast from sunrise to sunset; a period of nearly 18 hours. This gives the young people an insight into how it feels to stay hungry and inspired them to help those in the community who don’t have access to even the bare minimum of food each day. The ‘CAN-paign’ raised a large amount of tinned food which was donated to the Fareham and Gosport food banks which I wrote about in November 2018.
At the end of our visit I left hoping that further meetings will be arranged and that, if a group from the mosque visits our church, they will find that we are as welcoming to them as they were to us. With so much in the media that concentrates on the extremist minority, whom they find as repugnant as the rest of us, it was good to discover that we can form friendships and, in building closer bonds between us, doubtless learn much from each other. Meanwhile I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.