An act of kindness

Culham College is a place described by the renowned architectural guide Pevsner as "institutional Victorian Gothic at its grimmest," somewhere which I have passed on the A415 a few thousand times, these last eight years of taxi driving in and around Abingdon. 

Until a recent telephone call from a customer, I knew of it as the European School and had never been inside the imposing building, bedecked with a row of flags of member countries of the European Union and soon to become the Europa School.    

A few weeks ago, there came a request from my customer to drive her to what was termed a Valedictory Evensong, held to mark the final reunion of former students of the Anglican teacher training college, many of whom had studied at the college in the 1960s and 70s.  There was a note in the leaflet advising of "the many steps into and between buildings and uneven walking surfaces" and a request from my customer to walk with her from the car park to the entrance of the building. 

Such occasions held to mark the end of a period of time which has been so special in the professional formation of so many people are obviously poignant for those who are involved, but also on this occasion for me – a stranger welcomed in their midst.  

For the principal components of a church service are common to Anglicanism the world over and there were some outstanding hymns led by a huge choir and spirited organ playing: Guide me, O thou great Redeemer and For all the saints, as well as an opportunity to see inside the building. 

For my customer, it may well have been a difficult thing to ask for help – it would be for me -  when you have been used your entire life to fending for yourself and indeed, devoted your life to helping others.   Much of my life before taxi driving was devoted to caring for my father, as he slowly became more and more unwell, during the final years of his life.  I don't ask for help very often. 

In church, there is sometimes this poignant little ceremony in the middle of the Maundy Thursday liturgy, where some people from the congregation have their feet washed by the priest or someone else in authority. 

It is not something I volunteer for, but a few years ago, I did let someone wash my feet on Maundy Thursday and it was a curiously liberating experience, for someone who had always been the one doing the caring and is fiercely, stubbornly and doggedly independent.  

My customer thanked me that afternoon with a cup of tea and by saying "I couldn't have gone today without you" - thanks enough.  As one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs puts it  – sung by another artist, as my Dad's coffin was carried out of our house, "May you always do for others and let others do for you."

 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 31 May 2017

  1. The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, Sherwood and Pevsner, Penguin Books 1974.
  2. The European School Culham, web site, as consulted 30 May 2017 
  3. Europa School UK, web site, as consulted 30 May 2017
  4. Culham College Association, Grand Reunion 13 May 2017, as consulted 30 May 2017