November 2021

The Reform Club grew out of the reform movement in England in the early part of the 19th century which gave rise to the Reform Act of 1932 which extended voting rights to shop owners, small landowners and tenant farmers, but denied those same rights to working men and women. Even with further reforms in 1867 and 1884, only 2.5 million of the 35 million inhabitants of England had the right to vote. It would not be until 1918 that working men would be granted the vote and women afforded that same right ten years later.

The Reform Club became the place where these vital issues could be debated. It also became a haven for writers and journalists who interacted with these political thinkers. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a member, as was Henry James, William Thackeray, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, and David Attenborough. Its lobby has often appeared in writing and film, serving as the launching point for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and the fencing scene in James Bond’s Die Another Day.

We were there at the invitation of Teach Beyond to network with members of the Association of Christian Teachers on England, an umbrella organization that seeks to support Christian teachers in both secular and church schools. We met a number of colleagues with whom we hope to develop a further relationship as our responsibilities with our mission increase.

Following a light lunch, we took a brisk walk to Piccadilly Circus to pay our respects to the famous Eros statue, created by Sir Alfred Gilbert, the leading sculptor of the Victorian Age, to whom the local pigeons pledge their loyalty. Then we took a leisurely stroll along Piccadilly, stopping at Fortnum and Masons for some Christmas gifts for my family before entering Green Park to rest our ears and ears a bit from all of the Christmas bustle.

Suitably refreshed we strolled on to Harrods in Knightsbridge for some more gifts and a bit of a look around at the famous Christmas displays. Paddington Bear seemed to be the theme this year, and he was everywhere. Prominent too were the Disney plush toys and of course the ride-on toy cars for those with more money than sense. The toy Land Rover on display cost $10,000 Canadian, more than I have ever paid for a car myself.

We finished our day at a little bistro overlooking Sloan Square, the site of so many protests in days past. It is quite trendy now and very convenient to Victoria Station where we caught the one-hour train ride back to London. The weather was most kind to us all day, with temperatures in the mid-teens and lots of sunshine. This was our second trip in to London, and I must say we find it to be a most pleasant place to visit, and for us living in Horsham, very doable at very little expense. We will return.

The last time England won the World Cup (that’s soccer, ma’am) was in 1966. As luck would have it, I was with my family in England at the time and got to see it happen. The entire country was, and is, mad for the game, and every pub and several store windows had the games on more or less constantly as England made their way to the final and then defeated what was then West Germany 4-2 for the win. Cue the pandemonium!

My birth city of Colchester has not fared well at English football, bobbing up and down between the third and fourth division for most of its existence, so they are not much of a team to support. And frankly, I can’t get behind all the moneyed teams like ManU. and Chelsea. Recently Newcastle United was bought out by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, infamous for ordering the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So despite having a niece in Newcastle, it is hard to get behind a team like that as well.

Moving to Horsham has given me another option. Brighton is just down the road from us and is a charming little seaside town filled with winding streets and little cafes. It also is the site of a brand-new football stadium, sponsored by American Express that hosts the Brighton team called Albion. The Seagulls, as they are called locally, have been on a tear since the stadium was built ten years ago, and sit at fourth place in the Premier Division.

Clive, with whom I work at Teach Beyond, is more of a rugby fan than a football fan, but knowing that I was interested in seeing my first ever live game, secured tickets for us for last Saturday’s game against Newcastle. They couldn’t have been better seats. Apparently by the time he booked the 30,000-seat stadium was sold out, except for disabled seating. For 30 quid ($50 CAN) he got us seats at pitch level with an unobstructed view of the entire field!

Not willing to endure the crowds on the train, I arranged to pick him up in my car and after a delightful lunch on the way down, found a parking spot a mere twenty minutes away from the stadium. As we approached, the crowds pouring in from the trains and buses began to swell. However, the stadium is well designed and could easily manage the numbers. We found our way to our seats and settled in for what proved to be a wonderful match that went mostly Brighton’s way, much to the delight of the local fans.

There has been much fuss made over the hooliganism of British football fans. I am happy to say I saw none of that in Brighton. They sang lustily on every conceivable occasion, as did the Newcastle fans, but civility was the order of the day, and the stadium staff were most courteous and helpful as well. It was a very enjoyable experience, and one that I have waited a lifetime to see in person. It will not be the last!