Bishop Martin Seeley reflects on his journey to London
I am writing this sitting on the train travelling back from London Liverpool Street to Ipswich after meeting friends, having set off this morning.
The last time I made this same round trip from Ipswich to London on the train, was on March 10th 2020, and that was the last time I was in London.
More than 14 months have passed, since I last made a journey that I had been making before the pandemic about twice a week.
Like many things that we may find ourselves doing for the first time after a long time, I found myself approaching this trip with mixed feelings.
I was even thinking that maybe if the train from Ipswich was cancelled that wouldn’t be such a bad thing to happen – after all, it would mean I could stay in Ipswich.
I have not enjoyed the restrictions of so much of our prolonged lockdown, but staying put, staying in one familiar place, has been refreshing, at least some of the time.
As it happened, the train was on time, and only later, at Colchester, got held up for half an hour while a signalling problem down the line got sorted out. Which, unfortunately, felt familiar too.
The concourse at Liverpool Street, the tube, and the streets around Piccadilly – where I eventually surfaced – were certainly less crowded than I remember them.
People, for the most part, kept their distance on the tube and escalators. The vast majority in the tube – and everyone on the train – wore masks. I was puzzled why some people thought they didn’t need to, despite the frequent reminders.
And I was struck by just how forceful the advertising is – I hadn’t realised that quite so much before – but it is everywhere, with barely a space left that wasn’t trying to persuade you to buy something.
But I had gone to meet friends and that was wonderful, meeting people I had not seen in the flesh for a very long time.
And we were able to have the sort of rambling conversations you can have when you are not constrained by the two-dimensional world of Zoom.
I am travelling home, though, wondering just how often I want to do this now.
The world has changed, and I have changed.
It was very good, and very important, to be with friends, but I am not sure it makes sense to be spending two hours getting to a more “work” meeting for two hours and then two hours travelling home again.
Friends, yes. Pastoral conversations, yes. Business meetings, less so.
I used to think that the travel time was valuable because it gave me time to read and think – or write, as I am doing now.
But I can do that at home, and bring the meeting there via the wonders of the internet.
We have been introduced to this remarkable means of teleporting – except we stay still and everyone else comes to us.
Which gives us time for other things, things that perhaps matter more now than we realised before the pandemic started.
Like seeing friends.
I will be thinking hard before I agree to travel far for a meeting – I will need to be convinced that would be the best way for everyone involved, and indeed for our critically endangered environment.
And right now, it is good to be coming home to Suffolk.
- Bishop Martin Seeley is the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and is writing a weekly article for readers while church services are disrupted by the pandemic