Monday, July 27, 2009

Social Unions

I entrusted myself to the tender mercies of Nationalised Express this weekend to make a visit to London. The occasion was the wedding of two of my friends, Tom and Jacqui, with whom I used to share a house when I stayed in the city. There was never any question of me missing their wedding. Tom and Jacqui are both very dear friends of mine, with whom I always try to hook up on the infrequent occasions I'm down there now.

Their friendship got my experience of London back on an even keel following an early bad flat experience. Politically, it was an interesting house in which to live. Tom and Jacqui met while working as researchers in the House of Commons – he for a Tory and she for a Labour MP. With a Lib-Dem sympathising lodger and myself as an SNP staffer in tow, we very nearly had the full set represented.

Their wedding was a spectacular affair. The church was grander than many a Cathedral I've visited and the mass, with the addition of a choir, was a world away from the rather more austere, if for me familiar surroundings of the Kirk. Officers from Tom's TA unit provided a guard of honour, before we headed off to the Terrace of the House of Commons for the reception.

However, it was the previous evening which provided a cameo as touching as the wedding itself. Heading pubwards up Shaftesbury Avenue around 9pm, we passed Soho Fire Station. There, in one of the doorways, were two firefighters standing behind a table, collecting for Ewan Williamson of the Lothian and Borders Brigade, who tragically lost his life on July 12 tacking a blaze in Edinburgh's Dalry Road - not far from where I went to school.

Those London firefighters most likely never knew Ewan, but that's not the point. It could just have easily been one of their own watch members who had left a family behind in the line of duty, which is why they were there, collecting change from the late night revellers for someone whom through the bonds of the job they regarded as one of their own.

If it's possible to be both humbled and uplifted in the same moment, that's how what remained of our evening began.

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