Serving Mammon and God

21 July 1989 British Midland 771 Birmingham to London Heathrow

For a long time I had wondered whether there was any real advantage in flying from Birmingham to London rather than catching the train. Certainly there is if you have an onward flight, but travelling to the City is more of a question. The only way to find out, I decided, was to try it. I chose this day because the timing of my appointment in London meant that if I missed the flight, I could still be on time anyway by train, if they were running, and because I wasn't supposed to meet anybody on the way. Also, there had been some problems on the railway reported on the radio the previous evening. As I could not afford the full fare, I asked at the British Midland desk what prospects were for standby passengers. Very good indeed, I was told. So I paid my GBP 33 and checked in for the flight. Considering there had been problems on the railway, this flight was surprisingly empty.

The flight left on time, we were served breakfast (which meant that the total cost of the morning became less than rail fare plus breakfast), we arrived at Heathrow and I caught the tube into the city. This was the catch to flying. The tube was incredibly crowded, but nobody seemed to be complaining. I suppose they were used to it.

The day's business went as well as could be expected. I was a shade nervous demonstrating an Israeli-designed product to an Islamic-owned bank. I suppose I ought to admit which bank it was. It was none other than the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in Leadenhall Street. Gone, but not forgotten. The full implications of their demise are not yet known as I write these lines.

Demonstrating the new product there, I knew I wouldn't have a problem if I was careful. I was used to this sort of thing. Previous worrying triumphs included offering a solution which originated in South Africa solution to a problem now being encountered in Nigeria, and talking to customers in Israel and Saudi Arabia within an hour of each other. All the same, I was glad when it was over.

I recalled the lucky escape I had several months earlier, when I was with the same customer. Browsing through a bookstore, I couldn't decide which of two books to purchase. I had heard good reviews of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and it had won prizes too, but as I hadn't read anything by the author before, I was reluctant to try it. I also noticed Jeffrey Archer's new book of short stories A Twist in the Tale. I chose the latter, a wise decision in retrospect. Salman Rushdie's book had not yet received its vast publicity for anti-Islamic sentiment, but it could still have been highly embarrassing for all concerned.

21 July 1989 British Midland 778 London Heathrow to Birmingham

The next question I needed to consider was whether to fly back to Birmingham, or catch the train anyway. I decided to go for it, and fly back. I caught the tube back to Heathrow, and bought a standby ticket for the next flight to Birmingham. The only problem was that it was not for some hours, but I was able to check in and guarantee myself a seat, even on the strength of the standby ticket. Presumably this is part of the reason that British Midland no longer offers standby fares on this route.

It was most important that I got back to Birmingham on time, because I needed to be at Birmingham Cathedral at 18:00. You may recall the Bishop of Aston, the Right Reverend Colin Buchanan, who was the main organiser of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's visit to Birmingham as part of the City's Centenary celebrations. Although undoubtedly a success in spiritual terms, there was no denying that there had been a deficit of more than one hundred thousand pounds.

Colin Buchanan saw himself largely personally responsible for this shortfall, and offered his resignation to the Bishop of Birmingham. Along with many members of the Church of England in the Birmingham Diocese, I am sorry to say this was accepted.
The Cathedral Choral Evensong on this day was to be Bishop Colin's farewell service, and as a Reader in the Church of England in Birmingham, I earnestly wanted to be there to show my support.

The only problem was that I was currently at Heathrow, waiting for the aeroplane to leave. For various reasons, there was a long delay, which meant that it was a few minutes before six when we took off. I knew that I would be late, but hoped that the delay would not be too long. After coffee had been served, I explained the problem to the passenger on the seat next to mine, and we swapped so that I was by the centre aisle, ready for a quick getaway.

The aeroplane reached the gate just before eight minutes past six. By nine minutes past six I had got off the aeroplane, run through the arrivals area, nearly knocking over a policeman in the process, and arrived at the taxi rank, where I instructed the driver to take me to Birmingham Cathedral, and as fast as he possibly could.

On arrival outside the Cathedral, having explained the reason for my hurry on the way, I handed him a ten-pound note, and ran inside. It was now nineteen minutes past six, and the second reading had just started.

For those of you who do not know, it is about seven miles from Birmingham airport to the cathedral. The cathedral was packed, and I was pleased to be there. I discovered later that the power cables on the railway line between London and Birmingham had been damaged. If I had tried to travel by train, I would not have made the service at all. There are those who will say this was a coincidence. Others will say it is another example of God at work in a mysterious way. I remain silent on this matter, for this is a narrative work and not a philosophical one.

There will be others who will say it was a waste of time, or money, or both to try to be at the service at all. For me, it was not.

No matter how you look at it, the flight added 91 miles to my total, and was my last flight of 1989, leaving the annual total at a rather poor three thousand one hundred and forty-two miles.

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