Three or four angels
By Mark Sadler
The unlovely office block where I worked from the week that I left college right up until August 2014 is called Moorcroft House. This is in reference to an 18th century redbrick mansion that formerly occupied the site where it survived two world wars but was ultimately flattened beneath the jackboot of urban developers in the early 1960s. The block overlooks Lambs Passage; an L-shaped road located just north of the Barbican, painted on either side with double yellow lines and barely wide enough to accommodate a single lane of vehicle traffic. It is more of a glorified alleyway.
My desk was situated in an open-plan area on the second floor, adjacent to a row of windows. Several times a day I would rise from my chair and stare out through the darkened glass.
From this vantage point I would often see in the street below a gathering of three or four angels who would congregate at the same spot on the pavement opposite. A colleague of mine once remarked how peculiar it was for us to be looking down on them when in biblical writings angels are portrayed as descending from on high and typically remain aloof from the ground.
The angels were dressed as one would expect in flowing white or champagne-coloured robes. The only time I ever saw any variation in this uniform occurred a few days before Easter 2009 when they manifested wearing hard hats and with fluorescent safety jackets pulled over their vestments. I attributed this change in attire to angel humour as further along the road a trio of workmen dressed in very similar clothing had dug up a short section of the tarmac exposing the pipes underneath.
The angels always appeared pre-occupied by some inaudible conversation that one felt compelled not to interrupt. However there was an occasion when, as I passed by on my lunch break, I noticed one of the host looking in my direction as if inviting my questions and so I asked him: “Why do you congregate here on this spot in the heart of London?”
He replied: “We gather here because beneath our feet lie the remains of the poet William Blake.”
“You are incorrect. The marker for the grave of William Blake lies in Bunhill Fields and his true resting place not more than 20 metres from the site.”
Then the second angel spoke:
“It is true that William Blake lies here beneath our feet. As a boy he ate of bread that had fallen from the heavens. That which sustained both his body and his soul was incorruptible and never left him.. It remains in the ground to this day where it radiates something of the heavens above.”
The third angel joined the conversation:
“William Blake died singing of the wonders he had glimpsed in heaven. In his memory we raised the pulpit spring upon this site. Alas, it has been forced underground and forgotten.”
It was then that I became aware of a fourth angel who seemed to exist only sporadically. He did not speak.
A few months ago I looked down from the window of the office and saw only bare pavement. The angels have not returned. Today as I packed my belongings and cleared my desk in readiness for my successor I have resigned myself to never seeing them again.
In the grounds of Fulham Palace, once home to the bishops of London, there lies the grave of an angel whose name is known but to god. A letter written by the bishop Edward Milbourn on the 7th July 1812 records how the seraph had fallen from clear blue sky the previous afternoon. A local doctor pronounced its neck broken and the body was quietly buried.
The following morning the heaped dirt over the burial bristled with long white flight feathers. Milbourn ordered these removed and placed in a studded wooden trunk that he kept in his office.
New feathers reappeared on the grave the following day and have done so every day thereafter. Every morning before dawn a caretaker removes them and places them inside the Milbourn trunk. When the trunk is full the feathers are transported to an un-named bank where they are stored securely in a vault.
I once asked bishop Angus Pomroy whether he had ever considered either exhuming the body of the angel or destroying the feathers, which must surely now be very large in quantity.
“I would greatly fear the consequences for my soul were I to pursue either action.”
As you enter Bromfield's Tailory you will see hanging from the panelled wall directly adjacent to the door, a large tapestry. Its lower left corner is ragged from being brushed against by people as they enter and leave the premises. The piece as a whole is moth-eaten and riddled with holes. It is so filthy that it deflects all but the most determined gaze. However when subjected to scrutiny it reveals an image of the river Thames in London at some time during the 17th century, the water teaming with a great variety of boats and sailing vessels.
The tapestry was woven by Mr Bromfield 17 years ago during a long convalescence. I asked him once whether he had considered repairing it and perhaps treating the fabric with a chemical that might deter future insect infestations. He directed my attention to a hole which had been gnawed clean though the threads and to a caterpillar that appeared to be in the process of weaving silk across the empty space:
“Am I to judge the work of god's hand as inferior to my own?”
One Sunday morning, while Mr Bromfield was attending mass, an angel entered the premises. He was carrying with him a black plastic bucket that was filled almost to the top with small coloured button badges – green, red, yellow, or blue, all decorated with pithy slogans.
He silently offered me one which I declined.
I explained to him my atheist convictions and my belief that angels do not descend to earth from the heavens but are the benign ambassadors of an alien race.
He nodded his understanding but still plucked a red badge from the bucket and handed to me. Printed in black ink across it glossy surface were the words: 'Hey! What's up?'
Upon Mr Bromfield's return I showed him the badge and inquired after its meaning. He pondered it for a few moments before responding:
“What you have to take into account when dealing with angels is that everything they say or do occurs within the realm of the avant garde. Which is to say that there may be some meaning or intent to their actions but its been buried beneath so many layers of imagery and symbolism the chances are you'll drive yourself mad trying to work it out.
“Trust me, I've been dealing with angels for over 70 years and unless they're waving a flaming sword in your direction I would take their behaviour with a pinch of salt.”
While wandering back home through the sketchy pre-dawn streets of Chalk Farm I saw what appeared to be an angel approaching from the opposite direction. As we drew closer to each other I realised that what I had initially assumed to be a celestial being was in fact Francis Newth, the lead guitarist of The Wens. Like me he was returning from a party which he had attended in fancy dress.
At a book launch the following week I relayed this story to my friend Jon Horsman who is a professor of logic at Woodford college in Dulwich. He asked me:
“But how do you know that what you saw was not an angel disguised as Francis Newth disguised as an angel?”
I considered inquiry at length and found that I could not answer him.
Horsman took full advantage of having knocked me intellectually off-balance and seized the opportunity to have sex with my girlfriend in the cloakroom - an incident that I was only made aware of four months later.