-on-Thames was the County Town of Surrey when I was a child and I went there to take an important pre-scholarship exam when I was ten: can still remember the sense of trepidation as we got on the bus, and the weird feeling of being in a big school with lots of strange children. Then many years later I worked here as a reporter on the Surrey Comet newspaper - old-fashioned offices right next to the parish church.
Cycled there for tea on Friday with a priest from a new movement based at Hampton Wick - of which more in a moment - but found the centre of the town a rather depressing experience. Crowded shops, lots of people, thronging and spending...but louts hanging around the church shouting obscenities, chucking beer cans, while other people (?? I think actually students from what is now Kingston University) also hung about, also swearing and looking glum and cross...this gave a nasty and slightly scary feel to things. I had wanted to pause to enjoy things a bit. The Regimental Colours from my father's regiment hang in the parish church - I remember going there for the ceremony when I was about eleven. Autumn sunshine and the river sparkling. But police on the alert, their radios crackling into life "Yes...could you just send along another couple of peole...no, not sure...that would be of help...thanks..." so my sense of menace was shared by others.
Later, over tea, I was told that this is normal :"And it's much worse at the weekends, when there are groups hanging about with their black teeshirts with that satan symbol on, and litter everywhere..." Oh dear.
The group I went to meet is based across the river, at Hampton Wick, and is called the Heralds of the Gospel. Evidently a new Catholic movement, fostering very traditional Marian devotions.