Friday 2nd November was a day we had been looking forward to. It was Gillian’s graduation ceremony at Guildford Cathedral.
The day dawned bright and sunny, with a brisk wind. Gillian and Paul left early to collect Gillian’s gown and cap. I left later to drive Marnie, Kiri and Callum to Guildford. Barry stayed at home with the seven dogs and Winston. Sitting on a hard seat for several hours was not an option with his wonky knees and latterly aggravated hips.
Guildford Cathedral celebrated its half-century in 2011. Construction was started before the beginning of WWII then halted during the war. Building work was delayed for some years after the end of the war, lack of money being the prime reason. Indeed, people were encouraged to ‘buy a brick’ to help the completion.
In subsequent years etched glass and stone sculptures have been added to what is a very plain brick structure, somewhat utilitarian in appearance. The interior is rather different. It is a building full of light and space and has an extraordinarily peaceful atmosphere. There is very little in the way of stained glass, a circular window above the high altar and arched windows at the opposite end of the nave, above the West Front, and a couple of other small works. The vaulted ceiling soars overhead with inset lights.
Above the High AltarThe vaulted ceiling above the Nave
Windows above the West Front
As the gowned dignitaries of the university prepared to process I was suddenly aware of a problem. I told Callum, ‘I need to find a loo’ and quickly exited the cathedral, heaving and hoping I wasn’t going to create work for the cleaners. Concerned helpers escorted me outside and alerted the Red Cross volunteers. All I wanted was to be left alone in the cold, fresh air, but these kind folks asked me questions, took my blood pressure, checked my pulse. I knew what was wrong. Before leaving home I had gulped some Gaviscon (a heartburn/indigestion antacid liquid). This is something I do if I am feeling queasy – I have a ‘nervous’ stomach. Unfortunately, in a hurry, I grabbed the wrong bottle, shook it vigorously and took a swig. As soon as it hit my mouth I realised it was calamine lotion. I looked at the label: Warning. For external use only. Well, I knew that but really I was checking instructions. They didn't say anything about seeking immediate medical advice so I was reassured. Plans need not be changed. I rinsed my mouth with mouthwash, swallowed some Gaviscon, got the children in the car and proceeded to Guildford.
Now, I haven’t a nervous disposition, I’m not easily disturbed, but even so, I don’t think the second Red Cross man’s opening remark to me was particularly diplomatic. ‘I hear you’ve been trying to commit suicide,’ he said. I laughed, rather grimly, it’s true, but I laughed.
‘You’ll have to go to A and E (Accident and Emergency)’ I groaned. He said I could drive there. The only problem was that my car was in a city car park, not outside the cathedral. The children and I had taken a shuttle bus from it to the cathedral and I had no idea how to get back to it. So, he phoned the ambulance service. Eventually, two impossibly young and very charming paramedics arrived, took me through all the questions again and deposited me at the hospital, where I waited and waited and waited.
The department was very quiet – I’ve never seen an A&E department so empty. Finally, a doctor saw me, asked the same questions and told me not to worry. (I wasn't worried, just fed up with myself.)
‘It’s inert,’ he said of the calamine. ‘Your body will get rid of it. You could have taken a glass of water or milk to neutralise it.’
Meanwhile, back at the cathedral, Gillian and Paul were wondering what was going on. As I was about to phone Paul, he phoned me. I told him not to worry, I was perfectly all right, and he and Gillian and the children were to go on to the reception. I would find my way back to the car and go home. At this point I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve this but I’m quite a positive person. I knew the name of the road!
The cathedral stands on a hill, a noticeable landmark. With that in view, I set off in what I hoped was the right direction. I soon found myself walking along a dual carriageway so retraced my steps, found an out-of-town supermarket and phoned for a taxi that took me to the station. The car park was near a railway line but it was not the station car park. Hey ho! As I tramped along the road a vehicle sounded its horn behind me. Lo and behold, it was Paul. I thanked him but I was cross with him, too. He took me to the car park where Gillian was waiting, still in cap and gown.
Her first words were, ‘I was worried sick.’ Then she said, ‘The only good thing is that Dad doesn’t know anything about this.’
Barry has a tendency to go into Superman mode, moving heaven and earth and anything in his way to achieve his ends. This usually results in many people rushing round like crazed ants to do his bidding.
Later she said, ‘You could have been mugged.’
Marnie said, ‘She had the SatNav in her bag; she could have used that.’
I would have found the car park – I was on the right road – but I am an idiot . . .
I missed Gillian's graduation . . .
The Graduates walk along the Nave after graduation
Outside Guildford Cathedral - the traditional 'caps in the air' ceremony
Gillian, B.A. (Hons)