I had a long urban stroll today, through Covent Garden, down to the footbridge over the Thames and then along the South Bank. There were vast quantities of Santas, many of them Very Merry. There was an utterly plastered gentlemen in a tailored suit with an all-over Christmas print, regrettably too unpleasantly aggro-drunk to ask for a photo.
I was on my way to Southwark Cathedral for the Crisis Christmas Carol Service. I hadn't got a ticket but I'd got a hopeful feeling and luckily there was a spare chair.
It was lovely. The cathedral was packed to the rafters and the service kicked off with the Merbecke Choir singing a lovely a cappella song with lyrics by Oscar Wilde called My Heart Stole Back. They sang beautifully and so did the Crisis Skylight Choir, only in different sorts of voices.
Jonathan Pryce (a patron) joined them, which was really touching. He narrated their second song, a version of When a Child is Born, but sang with them for their first one, Hallelujah, too.
The congregation burst into applause and just to be fair, applauded the other choir every time they sang too: and the members of Crisis who spoke about their lives.
They bravely stood in front of the congregation and told their stories; one particularly moving one was told by a young Irish chap those father, who didn't provide the love he ran away to seek, died on Boxing Day a few years ago. Through depression, alcohol and drugs, homelessness took these people's hope and confidence away, and Crisis gave them back through education, companionship and care.
We carolled away in between: Once in Royal David's City, Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Holly and the Ivy and O Come All Ye Faithful. Babies cried and chuckled, little children were escorted to the loo, gentlemen coughed their Christmas cough, groups of ladies from Derbyshire reminisced and rattled with perspex necklaces. There were readings: one by Jeremy Paxton (much rustling from the Derbyshire platoon: had he shaved off his beard? He had).
We all put as much as we could afford into paper envelopes because homelessness has risen by 77% in the last five years. That's awful, isn't it? A combination of lack of housing, benefit sanctions and very poor behaviour by employers (who in some cases withhold pay for months) added to depression, makes it surprisingly easy for people of all ages and backgrounds to completely slip out of what most of us regard as normality, into a hellish life.
Crisis volunteers cook Christmas dinner for thousands of homeless or vulnerable people every Christmas. They do it for all of us who don't do it, and that is why it's particularly important to support them at this time of year. I'm not a street charity donor, and in case you're not either, here's a link to the Crisis website in case you are feeling generous today: