#TryAlpha: Week One of the Alpha course


A car horn honked at me. In a daze, I’d wandered into an active driveway. Standing in front of the enormous church, decorated with fairy lights and a giant walk-through “WELCOME” sign, I was already kinda nervous. It’s not every Wednesday you finish work early to go to an Anglican Christianity-conversion course. Was my idle wandering into the road a subconscious message? Maybe. I joined the queue.

This is my first Alpha. I’m stood outside Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), freaking out.

Alpha is considered by the kind of people who take time out to consider this kind of thing, the most successful introductory course to Christianity since Jesus himself got chatting down the local fishery. There are, predictably, people who treat a Church-led course in spiritually as a bit, well, cult-y (two notable examples include this article by Jon Ronson, and this -poorly researched, imho- VICE article). I was here to test the waters myself.

Why am I here? Well, since I moved to London, I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis. Not like the one on the Alpha ads, where a dude who looks like he’s been holding in a really serious poo for too long asks important life-changing questions like “Is this it?” and “Pub or gym?”. No, my existential crisis is of a slightly more personal nature, and probably more to do with a lingering sense of loneliness since I moved away from all of my family and friends. I’m not hoping to find God, I’m not looking to be saved. I’m just curious about how other people can find solace and comfort in a religion. Plus I heard there’s free food.

alpha advert

Once assigned to a discussion group, I was led inside by a guy wearing a red t-shirt with “A-Team” emblazoned on the arm. Alpha’s pioneer Nicky Gumbel stood next to his wife Pippa. They both beamed at the enormous crowd. “Welcome!”

The talks were comforting. Nicky and Pippa told us to enjoy ourselves, that Alpha was intended to be a respectful and open place to discuss our thoughts about the meaning of life. They encouraged us to listen to, question and befriend our group members. A woman sang Amazing Grace. Nicky invited artist and once-ardent-athiest Charlie Mackesy to the stage to give a funny and charming speech. I tucked into my butternut squash

Speeches over, I feel relaxed. Mackesy spoke sense, took the piss out of Christianity a little, and had the audience charmed. It seems a lot less culty now. With a bit of chair reshuffling, we join our groups again, where cake and coffee is passed round. We play a name game, led by our host and her two helpers.

The atmosphere is a little awkward. We’re all here to dissect God in someway, and it becomes clear that athiests are in the minority. Which makes sense, really. What would an athiest be doing at a Church course? I take a moment to judge my decision to be here.

What if I’m the only person in here that doesn’t believe in God? That thinks all religion is a well-meaning, ancient system created by flawed people and exploited for war, money, selfishness? That thinks gays and women aren’t inherently sinners? That would rather blog than pray? I scan my group with my Christianity-radar set to HIGH.


Our host invites us to ask broad questions about God. After a silence, someone offers up “Why is there suffering?”. I sigh inwardly, wanting more in depth questions. I fire off “If god exists, how does he manifest himself in the world?”. The group nods, and falls back into silence. More questions are asked, with our host taking notes and sagely nodding at our queries. After a particularly long pause, she suggests the group breaks up and heads to the pub. Class dismissed.

A few conversations persist, then we all disperse out of the church. I had fun. I want to go back, to ask antagonistic questions and to compare the Christian answers with my own. I’m pleased with, but still slightly wary of the whole setup. I wonder if I’ll stick it out for the full ten weeks, or if something dramatic is going to happen. I make a mental note to ask one of the helpers where she got her shirt from next week. It was a nice shirt.


Don’t talk to strangers – or do

In London, there are secret rules.

Breaking them ousts you as an outsider, letting everyone in the immediate vicinity know that you’re a foolish, flailing tourist. They stir up feelings of mild contempt or pure raging hatred, depending on how serious the crime.

London is in fact designed specifically to identify outsiders- from impossible-to-pronounce towns to those pointless Open Door buttons on all tubes (HINT- none of them work, it’s just a sinister TFL ploy to reveal newbies to the entire carriage).

By far the biggest London rule, however, is to NEVER SPEAK TO ANYONE. Ever. Even if you’re squished up against their face between King’s Cross and Moorgate. Even if their rucksack just smacked you in the face. Especially not if you’re in the queue for something. What are you, some sort of sociopath?

**Top London Tip**: It’s really fun to break this rule.

So I bought a (toy) lion at the Zoo Late a week or so back, and being the cheapskate I am, refused to pay for a plastic bag to carry him home in. And as it turns out, being on a train full of drunk people while you’re carrying a toy lion is a great icebreaker.

We (me and my lion) were being mercilessly stared at. It was getting awkward. I had to break the rule. “I don’t just carry him around everywhere” I announced, startling a commuter who had been snoozing. The couple sat across from me caught my eye and started laughing. The man sat next to them, who was almost certainly a drug dealer, asked me what my lion was called. He suggested Tony, a la the Kellogs adverts. I pointed out that Tony was in fact a tiger, but nice try. More people laughed.

I sat quietly for the rest of my trip, feeling really bloody pleased with myself. I must be hilarious, I thought, sauntering down Shepherd’s Bush. I’d always secretly known I was a comedic genius, but these Tube strangers confirmed it for me. In two simple quips I’d made at least seven people in laughter. This must be what Peter Kay feels like all the time. I rang my boyfriend to tell him the good news.

A few days later, after a particularly bad night’s sleep, I nipped to the shop to get some milk. Yawning as I passed over my money, the guy commandeering the till asks me “Still in bed?”. I reply, “Yeah, and going straight back to it”, cue a ripple of laughter from him, the guy stocking the tobacco shelf, and the woman behind me in the queue. Wow, I thought, smiling, that wasn’t even that funny. Maybe because no one in London talks to each other, when they do make the slightest joke, it’s actually hilarious… I’m coming back here again.

I think London is dangerous for my ego.


The Exchange- Rooftop Cafe Review

I love a view. I also love good food. Generously, the Rooftop Cafe (Top floor of The Exchange on London Bridge Street) has combined the two so you don’t have to cart a three course meal to a city-top point yourself.

You have to clamber up what looks and feels, essentially, like a fire escape to get there. Not the most atmospheric entrance, but in a way it works because you have zero expectations by the time you breathlessly reach the top, so they’re well prepped to immediately blow you away.

We sat in the cosy cubby room, and let the wine flow. I ordered the scallops roe, beef and avocado meatballs, and the hazelnut cake. I’d recommend all of these (perhaps not the cake,a little dry for my liking), though it seems like the menu might change pretty regularly- each menu had the date on it.

In a previous life, the space was a caretaker’s flat. Not that you could tell, the place is kitted out with snazzy string chairs and pops of vibrancy, no toolboxes or overalls in sight. Service was smooth and fast, and despite the rain I ventured out onto the terrace to snap a couple of pictures. The atmotphere was so lovely, really chilled out and you cannot argue with the views. It’s a shame we were too busy tucking into our mains when the sun was setting, but I’ll definitely be heading back on a sunnier evening for cocktails and a city-wide overlook.

Have you been to the Rooftop Cafe? Do you want a meal with a view? Visit Rooftop Cafe’s website here.


Selfie Sunday: I’m just plain old ‘Northern’ now.

I was a busy little blogger yesterday- it’s my first London weekend that didn’t involve moving house again, so I took full advantage of not having to spend a Saturday packing, and spent it walking instead.

Mostly this just involved getting lost, but I managed to take my mini walking adventure via West End Live (which was okay, just a shame about the techie issues), round the tourist-rammed Portobello Road market, down Notting Hill and back home to Shepherd’s Bush. Completely pooped, I was ready to get into bed come 4pm.

But I live in London now. And I think it’s technically a legal requirement for 20-somethings in a capital city at a loose end on a Saturday night to find something to do. And who am I to disrespect the law?

So, when my wonderful housemate Georgie invited me to a party in Shoreditch, to a swanky little basement bar called nineteen-twenty, I couldn’t possibly say no. I spent the night talking buzz-words, north-south divides and The Shard. The wine was flowing and there were free cupcakes, and what more can a girl honestly want from a party?

I was starting to feel more like a real Londoner. Stopping for a hotdog in Notting Hill, heading off to jaunts in Shoreditch, planning charity shop hauls in Clapham. Then I found myself having to explain, mortally offended, that Manchester is NOT in fact “in Yorkshire“. I was horrified.

This innocent (and wildly misinformed) mis-placing of my hometown was crazy. Being a Manchester girl living in Yorkshire used to be a big deal- i.e. I was mercilessly teased for my pronunciation of “beer”, and asked to provide a passport every time I crossed the Pennines by my charming and ever-loving friends. But I guess in a city where the War of the Roses is skimmed over in history lessons, none of that matters now.

I’m just Farrah From The North, and I can spare people the potted life history now- which is going to save a lot of time.