I sat in my beat-up kiddie bus at 7:34 on a Sunday morning, 35 minutes from home.

And I  gazed at the most divine building, occupied by the illustrious broadcasting giant, the BBC. Lemon-yellow, perfect and stately, in rolling ground with an imposing gatehouse.

One of Caversham House’s  functions is to monitor broadcasts from all over the world. A lofty aim which has always appealed to my romantic side.

The other, far more prosaic occupant of the building is Radio Berkshire. The security guard, who had come on shift just minutes before my arrival, was chirpy because he had had a good night’s sleep. He tells me that Radio Berkshire constitutes a tiny proportion of the working population of more than 400.

I was there to sit with a local presenter during the Sunday morning shift. A local monsignor was phoning in. And we were about to put two sides of the same story to the public.

To say I was a bit nervous was to imply that Caligula was occasionally unpleasant. The last time I went on air was during my journo years, when I used to do the graveyard shift at the local Hospital Radio, trawling the rooms for requests from patients, and then playing music to make those very wards seem a tiny bit less grim.

Once I set off the burglar alarm well after midnight by mistake, and the long-suffering patients were subjected to persistent alarms and blue flashing light, while I ran around like a headless d-jing chicken trying to turn everything off. I have mercifully erased the end of that story from my memory.

The kids sensed my terror yesterday, I think. After a long journey to Gloucestershire and back to visit a beloved with a 90th birthday, we had tea and then Mad announced: “Right, Mummy, we’re going to have a Spa Treatment.”

My mind boggled, but I acquiesced.

I was laid down on my bed, when my daughter appeared with a bowl of water and slices of courgette (zucchini) floating in it. Now, she said, Mummy, just relax.

The courgette was lovingly placed on eyes and cheeks. It was a bit wet and cold, but it was so very well meant. Felix decided, chortling, that he must film this occasion for posterity. And if it’s all the same to you, I won’t post the results here.

I managed to contrive to lose the courgettes and then Maddie went in for the foot massage, commenting with engaging frankness that they were very smelly and needed cream and perfume. She was rather good, actually.

And then it was bedtime and My Husband The Ex Broadcasting Journalist began to put me through my paces.

The problem is this: 18 months ago, thieves began to steal copper from our church roof.

The church is very beautiful. It has glass windows which seem to let in the forest outside, a wide area for the congregation so that no one is too far from the action and a soaring wooden-clad roof.

Nothing was done: and so, of course, the thieves came back for more. It was like kids in a sweetie store. More valuable copper?Oh, yes please, Guv, don’t mind if I do.

And then the strangest communication appeared in the newsletter. We had all been relocated to the church in the town centre and a shiny new start time for Sunday masses: 8:30am. The newsletter said the Bishop would like to consult with the parish about whether to close my woodland church,  which until a few months before had been packed to the gunnels every week and with a school of 250-plus depending on it.

We wrote letters. They wrote again in July  2010, saying, well, you obviously want two churches, we had better get it repaired then.

And that was all we heard until three weeks ago, when a monsignor from Reading stood up and told us it was going to be demolished.

No. Consultation.

So Phil and I scoped all the angles, wrote notes, rehearsed replies and all the time I was thinking, Kate Shrewsday, you are going to crash and burn on microphone in front of a whole county….

But I slept on it, and the next morning I woke up and looked out of the window and there was this squirrel. It was, to all intents and purposes, walking on air: it had a bendy birch twig masquerading as support but not much else.

And it was on the move, looking to get to one tree to another. There was another impossibly bendy twig leaning over from the desired tree and my heart went into my mouth as I waited for it to make a leap of faith, and fall.

But it landed safely. Newton would not have approved at all.

As it went on its way, I realised I was the same. I needed to make a leap of faith, and I would land safely.

I sat talking to the security guard at Caversham House for ages. Lovely bloke, had worked on cruise ships with only one lunchtime off a week. He’d met David Bowie when he worked at a hotel on the Isle of Man. And Stephen Fry. He kept me talking. I was grateful.

And then I was collected and sat down in front of a microphone, and we were off. The rehearsals paid off, I found my voice, and I did not crash and burn. I made that leap of faith and there was a bendy birch twig there to catch me.

And it was still only twenty-five minutes past eight.

The day was young.

Image courtesy of BBC.co.uk


29 thoughts on “Exposure

  1. Very well done indeed. I hope you have routed the eccleiastical vandals, who will promptly restore the church and set the coppers to rout, in turn, the copper-pinchers.

    1. I have a feeling it might have: but if I’m enough of a thorn the incoming Bishop, due to take over soon, might choose us to be gracious to, you never know…

  2. Stealing the copper from the church roof? For drugs not doubt. Addiction compromises our souls. They are so brazen here in Miami, they steel the guardrails in broad daylight and peak traffic on the highways for scrap metal prices.

  3. Love the message you received from your squirrel . . . just leap and the net appears. 😀
    And the spa treatment that Maddie provided to you.

    Also enjoyed:
    * To say I was a bit nervous was to imply that Caligula was occasionally unpleasant.
    * Newton would not have approved at all.
    * And it was still only twenty-five minutes past eight. The day was young.

  4. Ah, Kate, I have so missed your beautiful prose. This was just exquisite, and I hope that your mission to save your church will be successful. It so deserves to be. Well done on taking that leap of faith.
    Sunshine xx

    1. Sunshine! How lovely to hear from you! Hope that job is going well…thanks for those well wishes. Only time will tell whether we can make a difference, but I feel better for saying and doing something.

  5. Oh Kate, I just hate the vandalism that is happening all around the world. I do hope you’re successful in saving your church!

    1. Thanks Cindy. Vandalism was the first problem, but the church was woefully neglected in the 18 months since it all kicked off; even if the Diocese conceded we could keep out church we’ll have a huge amount to raise and a lot to do…

  6. Vandalism is bad enough, but, to a church, or any house of worship, is just terrible. Good for you for doing your part there, Kate, Your church in the woods sounds lovely with all of creation to be viewed. Let us know what happens.

  7. I am SO glad that squirrel landed safely.
    YOU are SO BRAVE!!! You won’t ever catch me on radio, local or not.

    (Can we listen on BBC ‘Listen again’ function? 🙂 )

    I askershally laughed out loud at the cold courgette substituted as cucumber as beauty treatment: your daughter knows her onions, so to speak

  8. Brava, Kate! I hope your church is saved? Copper thieves are a problem here, too, where the old farmhouses are a target when left unoccupied for too long (say, a week or more). They break in and steal the water and heating pipes, the old weathervanes from the roofs, even the old copper wash tubs one can still find in the cellars of the area.

    1. Terrible business, isn’t it Elizabeth? The church is far from safe, I’m afraid: I keep expecting someone to bulldoze it before I can do anything about it….I’ve just been contacted by a TV reporter, so the next step is telly, I fear….

  9. Thanks for sharing this experience, Kate. I am disappointed, however, that we don’t get to see the video of the spa treatment…..

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