Maggie Butcher from St James’s Piccadilly

Although I had some idea of what might be involved, I found the experience, under David’s sensitive and kindly tutelage, both more enjoyable and certainly more profound than I expected.

Told to ‘go towards what attracts you’ on Jermyn Street seemed like hedonistic licence, and I did indeed wander into a well-known emporium for a spot of cheese-tasting. In fact, a heightened awareness of both taste and smell (with the Psalmist’s line ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ playing at the back of my mind) along with sustained and patient looking shaped my day. Wandering and observing is something I like to do anyway but doing it very slowly and repeatedly was new. I saw sculpture I had not seen before and stopped to observe pattern, shape and form in building sites and scaffolding as much as grand architecture and laid-out lawns.

White cube galleryThe question which I wrestled with in the longer session had to do with patience (and my own impatience) and what it meant to me in the context of my marriage as we both grow older and slower. I found myself – perhaps in both senses – in the White Cube gallery looking at three huge rectangular wooden beams suspended, seemingly motionless, in a large empty space. Normally, I would dismiss such conceptual art as shallow and not worth spending much time with. But I stopped and looked and took in the relationship of each beam to the other, how that relationship shifted as I moved, and how one pendant beam might move slightly, seemingly independent of the other or of me. I peered into their hollowed-out centres through to the other side. The silence of the gallery encouraged reflection: how relationships shift over time, often imperceptibly and in quite undramatic ways. I learnt that sometimes my own angle of vision appeared to effect change but how too movement and change were not always, and did not need to be, in my control, that re-shaping and re-balancing came about not as a result of my willing them so but from forces and directions that asked only that I paid heed.



Having regaled my husband with some of the day’s events, in particular the line ‘O taste and see’ , he reminded me of Denise Levertov’s poem of the same name. The next day being International Women’s Day, I read it to a small gathering at St James’s. It sums up Street Wisdom rather well, I think.

O Taste and See

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.


Piccadilly Circuitous…

Bet you thought the statue in Piccadilly Circus was called Eros.  But you’d be wrong.

That’s just one of the many, many surprises uncovered when a group from the nearby St James’ Chuch set out for some serious wandering on their first Street Wisdom.   I understand most churches celebrate Lent in a traditional, rather sombre way.  But St James isn’t most churches.  And this is clear the moment you arrive to find the courtyard bustling with market traders, an espresso bar buzzing with customers and a pews dotted with snoozing rough sleepers comfortably catching up on missed sleep.  And Lucy Winkett, who organised the Street Wisdom, isn’t the normal vicar.   Her approach to Lent – and life – is anything but trad.  Which is how she and her colleagues came up with the idea of  “Loitering within Lent”, a series of experiences designed to make people reflect on life from different perspectives.   When she heard about Street Wisdom, she felt iy would fit in perfectly – and she was right.


I didnt notice till half way through the Tune Your Senses phase, what the sign next to us was saying…

With someone ‘up there’ providing gorgeous pre-spring weather and a post-card perfect setting,  the event was a rich and rewarding experience not just for the participants but also for Jo and I.   We learned about how even an ugly strip of torn black plastic, or the scent of lavender or some gently moving planks of wood can spark off a revelatory insight.   We were touched the youthful appetite to learn within some more ‘senior citizens’ and by the age-old wisdom in some Generation Y-ers.  Our erudite participants introduced us to a great quote by Rilke and we heard the word ‘panoply’ used in ordinary conversation.   We met Joey the dog.  And learned the real name of that statue we thought we knew so well.     Turns out it’s not Eros but the Angel of Christian Charity.   Amazing what you learn when you really look!


Judging by this plaque on St James’ back door,
we are not the first people to have had the idea that
wisdom is everywhere when you really look around you

If you took part and want to add your own comments, please do so below.   Thanks for inviting us!