6am: IT beats an alarm clock," says 55-year-old John on being woken by the cheery greeting of a grey-habited nun. He admits the crack of dawn is a bit on the early side to be turfed out of bed, but says he's so grateful for somewhere to sleep he doesn't mind how early he has to get up.
If it wasn't for Sr Mary and the other workers and volunteers who run the night shelter in Westminster Cathedral Parish Hall, John and the 39 others would have been on a park bench or under a bridge last night.
The hall opened its doors to the homeless during last winter's cold snap, and has not yet, despite the disproval of its wealthy neighbours, had the heart to close them again. But the hall is used by church groups during the day, and has to be cleaned and disinfected first. so there's no chance of a lie-in for the residents. By 6.20am they're up and about and enjoying a cup of tea and a piece of bread before heading off into the dawn. Peter, who was once an army corporal, says lots of the people who use the hall are just "ordinary folk like you and me. They've fallen on hard times, that's all. And once you fall, it's not easy to get back up again."
7am: Work begins early for the cathedral clerics, too, with the first of the morning masses. Be-suited businessmen and women en route to their city offices share a pew with sandwich bar proprieters and cleaners for a quick but devout act of worship.
7.40am: The cathedral's 15 resident priests, plus a handful of membcis of staff and parishioners, gather in the cathedral's Lady Chapel for morning prayer. "It's very rare, these days, to have so many priests living together in one house we're the biggest community of priests outside of a monastery in this country," says cathedral administrator Mgr Patrick O'Donoghue. "We try to get together to pray at least once a day."
Sam: Fr Michael Seed, one of the cathedral chaplains, helps himself to some cereal in the dining room at Clergy House behind the cathedral and relates a hilarious tale about mixing up his briefcase with that of a rabbi at an interfaith meeting the previous evening.
Several of the priests tuck into a cooked breakfast prepared by the six Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Victories who do their cleaning and cooking. "The sisters are an inspiration to us," says Mgr O'Donoghue. "They're really the spiritual basis of the community." And they're pretty good cooks, too.
9arn: Mgr O'Donoghue and his deputy, Fr John Arnold, meet in Fr Arnold's office to discuss routine business. Most days Fr Vincent Brady, Cardinal Hume's secretary, pops in from the adjoining Archbishop's House to let them know about any special masses or events which the cardinal has agreed to, and to confirm which masses he will preside at.
Among the issues discussed at the daily business meetings are staffing matters 55 lay people are employed at the cathedral, and like any other managers the priests have to discuss matters of contracts and payments. They have also had the unpleasant task of making staff redundant due to financial pressures. Money matters are a frequent item on the agenda the cathedral runs at a loss, and is also suffering the effects of wear and tear. Masses, for example, are these days frequently interspersed with the 11.30am: Down the road at the Passage Day Centre 60-year-old Fred is having a cigarette and playing cards with his friend Phil. Last night they slept rough the noisy, crowded centre is their day-time refuge from the rain and cold outside. The centre, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and a staff which includes laypeople and volunteer workers, can shelter up to 300 homeless men and women at any one time they can watch TV, play cards, have meals and chat over cups of tea.
There's a "shop" selling second hand clothes shirts 20p, coats .1:1 and a medical room with a nurse and, sometimes, a doctor in attendance. This and the walk-in clinic run at the nearby Cardinal Hume Centre by nun and doctor Mary Hickey provide homeless people in Westminster, who would down to watch TV. She'll be able to stay here until her child is born, and will then be found more suitable accommodation elsewhere.
3pm: The sound of piano scales, flutes and violins floats around the corridors of the cathedral choir school as pupils practise their music. The school's 100 pupils are the backbone of the cathedral's music, and are considered among the finest choristers in the country.
Like the youngsters at St Vincent's, the boys at the choir school are busy practising for Christmas, the highlight of their calendar and, for them, one of the hardest working weeks of the year.
4pm: A couple hoping to get married at the cathedral call to see Fr Arnold. Last year about 40 weddings were held there, and unsurprisingly it's a popular venue. "We try to restrict weddings and baptisms to people who have a special reason for asking," he tells them. As it turns out the bride-to-be's parents were married there back in 1962, so the couple get the green light.
5.30pm: David, a 22-year-old who left his home in the north east for the bright lights of London, talks to Paul at the Cardinal Hume Centre about how he can find a job.
David had nowhere to stay when he first came to the capital several months ago, and was given a place at the centre's hostel down the road from the cathedral. The hostel, set up nearly four years ago, aims to provide assistance for youngsters who find themselves alone and at risk. David needs a job, and then he'll be able to get himself somewhere of his own to stay, so he comes along to the evening groups run three nights a week at the Cardinal Hume Centre for advice and guidance on making applications.
7.30pm: Fr David Norris has celebrated the last mass at the cathedral for today, but people are still wandering in and out, kneeling for a few moments before the Blessed Sacrament and lighting candles. The cathedral doors close for the day at 8pm.
lOpm: The staff running tonight's shelter in the parish hall have arrived and are putting the mattresses out on the floor. Outside those hopeful of securing somewhere to lay their heads are queuing, one or two newcomers to the shelter but most old hands.
Peter, who spent the morning at the Passage and the afternoon at St Martin in the Fields, says it's been an average sort of day. "One's much like another, I suppose," he says. "At least it didn't rain."
all photos by Val Baker/APA