December is the gloomiest month of the year. There were a few bright spots. I managed, without any help, to get my website up and running on the Internet. I was very pleased about this - although it is doubtful whether anyone else is. I saw marsh and hen harriers hunting at dusk over Royden Common in N. Norfolk - a wonderful sight. One murky morning, after many years of searching, Tommy Bamber and I saw a hawfinch at a Thetford sewage farm. I was not filled with elation, as all I could see really clearly was its bill. Then on New Year's Eve I made John Eley laugh 'til he cried recounting the vulgar story of Lewis Rush going out to bat for Debenham High School with his hat stuffed down his Y fronts to keep his box from sliding down his trouser leg. I think female rhinos on heat came into the conversation. Philip and I probably played our last game of football with the boys on Christmas day. Philip's back cannot stand the strain!
I suppose what most impressed me in December was the ending to Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I found the fate of the gorgeous, warm-hearted heroine, Lara, truly terrible: 'One day Lara went out and did not come back. She must have been arrested in the street, as so often happened in those days, and she died or vanished somewhere, forgotten as a nameless number on a list which later was mislaid, in one of the innumerable mixed or women's concentration camps in the north.' What struck me as so awful was that the she was lost to the author of the book. That is what it means to be finally lost - to be lost to the author of the book.
January was very exciting because Tomio and Toru who had entertained Tommy Bamber and myself during our visit to Japan visited Bury St Edmunds with a school party. I helped to entertain them. This included several new experiences for me: cooking kippers for breakfast, washing Japanese underpants in my twin tub, brass rubbing at the Perse School in Cambridge, a visit to a Macdonalds and a talk at the Japanese Embassy. One evening my two visitors asked how I washed my hair in the absence of a shower. I told them I lay in the bath - and lay on the floor by way of illustration. Then I put my fingers in my ears and on my nose - also illustrated - and submerge my head in the bath water. Tomio and Toru thought this was a quaint English custom and politely asked for a bowl. I really enjoyed just watching the delicious assistant to the Cultural Attaché at the Japanese Embassy. She was slim, chic, graceful and accomplished. Finally I had the bad luck to bump into my brother Philip in the café at West Stow Country Park. The Japanese were delighted to meet him. "What's your brother like," they asked. "Strong willed and bossy," he replied. "Ho, ho - strong willed and bossy," - they liked that - and were soon taking photographs of Philip and Sandra from every angle.
I took the funeral service of Mrs Ruth Bishop, mother of my boyhood friend, Robert Watson, in January. I was pleased to meet Robert's son - a taller version of his dad. Ruth was one of the very, very, few ladie who was positively enthusiastic about kissing me!
In February our morning congregation at Chapel was decimated by illness - an ominous foretaste of things to come. I finished my article on life after death for my website and began submitting it to the different search engines. Later in the month my spirits revived as I saw the harbingers of spring. I did one of my favourite walks over Knettishall heath and along the Thet valley to Riddlesworth Hall. The willows and poplars on the Thet flood plain gleamed in the sunshine and Riddlesworth Hall was awash with great drifts of aconites and snowdrops The Brockley Quiz night went well and after years of ducking and weaving I got a kiss, at last, from Jo nee Sykes.
In March I was pleased to attend my cousin Margaret's husband's 60th birthday party at Alan Road Methodist Church. My Ipswich cousins and I probably enjoyed washing up together as much as anything. It reminded me of our parents doing the same after big meals at Christmas. The Reed's are always happiest when they are active.
I had a happy afternoon with Peter Webb who showed me around his large Stanstead garden. Peter likes to tell me a few stories. He had one about a chap who had a wasp fly up his trouser leg - with devastating results. Next time he felt something going up his trousers he went berserk - dropped them and danced about in his underpants. Peter said, "It weren't a wasp only a bit of ol' twig!" As he tells these stories his daughter, Viv, keeps saying, "Don't say too much - he'll put it in that letter - he'll write it all down." How true!
At the end of the month I attended Christine Ling's funeral. She was a cleaner at Debenham High School. I liked her a lot and thought, perhaps, the vicar's tribute could have made more of her virtues. She had genuine humility - a rare grace - and was patient in suffering. It was one of my few contacts with folk from the school. I was pleased to chat to the secretarial staff - Jane, Elspeth and Alison - and to get a hug.
I started the advanced website course in April at West Suffolk College. This was to prove a disappointment but I did meet an old colleague from the County Upper School, Colin Chapman, formerly Head of Maths. He hasn't changed a bit! Colin has developed an interest in lilac trees in retirement and is a European authority on the subject. What exciting lives we old teachers lead!
I was fascinated to read about Samurai William - the first Englishman to have a significant impact on Japan in the 16th Century. The book dealt with the introduction of Christianity into Japan by the Portuguese and Spanish. The Roman Catholics made many converts by becoming more Japanese than the Japanese. There were 300, 000 by 1600. Three successive Shoguns saw the church as a rival power base and persecuted it out of existence. Mass burnings and crucifixions ensured not even the smallest remnant survived. I know there are those, including one of my friends, who think it a fine thing that Japan is not Christian. I think the annihilation of Japanese Christians a shameful episode.
I noted after one prayer meeting - 'it was good to be there.' Peter and Edward prayed well and Carolyn was very happy. Morale at church was beginning to improve with the weather. Several of us had a very cheerful afternoon clipping the chapel yew trees. One reckless lady who strayed into the graveyard was press-ganged into making tea!
Spring is a great time for birds. There were little gulls and black terns at Livermere lake - a wonderful sight wheeling over the water. On May 14th Tommy, Rob and myself had our own bird race. This involved getting up at about 4am and bird watching until 10 pm to see as many different species as possible. Unfortunately the weather was indifferent and we only saw 107. Still it was great fun and there is always next year.
In May I went to another 60th birthday party - Mervyn Crawford's. It was great to see some old friends there. John Bean told me a little story about that eccentric Brockley character, Dick Clarke. Dick was asked on one occasion if he'd enjoyed his weekend. "No I hin't," he replied in his whiney voice, "had the greyhounds over." He had hyperactive grandchildren that he hated! After Mervyn's celebration I rounded off the day at Lackford Lakes where I watched a hobby hunting moths. It kept flashing its rufus thighs as a tarty girl might flash her red knickers.
In the spring Philly Lebbon died. I remember him getting on the school bus nearly 50 years ago. He was a dark skinned boy to whom I scarcely spoke a couple of sentences. A few years ago I saw him walking home from Bury and stopped to give him a lift. He didn't say much but I shall never forget him remarking, "You still play cricket for Brockley - I allus look in the paper to see how you git on." I was so surprised! For over 40 years people have been able to look in the paper and read my scores. No longer. If they see that a J. Reed has excelled it is my illustrious, albeit stroppy, nephew Joseph who is in the runs.
In June I camped in Cornwall for nearly a fortnight. I found a very picturesque campsite near Newquay with lovely views over rolling meadows and a distant wind farm. The only drawback was the loud music from the nightly karaoke. Needless to say I had some wonderful walks. One day I went to St Ives and trecked along the granite cliffs to Zennon. It was a hot day and the coastal path was dangerous. I was either clambering over boulders or slipping on quartz sand. The sea was turquoise, the common spotted orchids in bloom and butterflies abounded. But it was hot. I kept being passed by hearty, bra-less, German girls in sweaty t-shirts and bouncing bosoms. No wonder I slipped and grazed my knee. Never was a walker more pleased to discover a cool, dark, pub in Zennon and sink a pint of bitter. The way back to St Ives lay entirely through small low-walled meadows dating back to Celtic times. It was an ancient track with "stiles" of huge granite blocks and cattle grids of vertical granite slabs. There were some odd people on the campsite - other than me! One man had a pigtail, a couple of greyhounds and a back burned to a startling shade of pink. He was one of those men who wore very skimpy, tight shorts and as he stood and chatted kept wrenching his testicles from side to side.
By June my website was appearing in the search engines. Since then I have had 20 to 30 'hits' a day but very little feedback. An American feminist e-mailed me to say that she agreed with my tentative conclusion that Priscilla could have been the author of Hebrews. I consider it very ironic that one of the few responses I have had came from such a source.
I went to see Mr John Clarkson, for many years my neighbour in Brockley, and was surprised to see that the old refrigerator that stood in his garden had gone. He had told me he wasn't going to pay £30 for the council to take it away. I asked him, "Where's your old fridge?" He had cut it up with a pair of garden shears. Every week he secreted bits of it into his dustbin. He kept the bin-men sweet by giving them cans of beer, a few apples and bags of cherries. John said, "They think I'm a bit simple." I reckon! He gave me a bag of cherries when I left. I half expected a piece of fridge to take home with me.
I went up to London in mid-July with Philip and family to attend our Aunty Olive's 80th birthday celebrations. We spent the morning in Kew Gardens. That was a treat. One minute I was looking at a gorgeous display of orchids and the next at a corner of a neglected farmyard with nettles, thistles, docks and figwort. We had a great time in Olive's long, narrow garden. It was good to be there with my three brothers and five of my cousins. Andrew reminded me so much of Uncle Ted and Richard of Uncle David - both of whom I loved. It was worth going to the party just to see cousin Andrew's daughter's smile.
I had a lot of very nice days in the summer. On one Mervyn took me butterfly spotting. We saw about a dozen varieties including the highly distinctive white admiral feeding on bramble flowers and honeysuckle. I enjoyed the ladies outing to the garden of Ron and Margaret Moody. Ron beat his plum trees and the sight of lots of elderly ladies picking up small purple plums had a Mediterranean atmosphere. Finally I had an excellent time with my brother Peter and Olive in Kingston. There is nothing like a walk by the Thames in the soft balmy light of August and happy conversation over a good meal.
At the end of the summer I took the funeral of another old friend - Mr Will White. He used to be our baker. It was a time of celebration for the Brockley church because Will had been converted late in life and for a few years been such an enthusiastic Christian. He used to say to me, "Jesus is my friend - isn't it wonderful." I enjoyed seeing the younger people who once worshipped with us and discovering that Jane, Lindsey and Beccy are going on well with the Lord. Will's grandchildren were very warm and affectionate.
In September I decorated my study - what a chore! I had to move hundreds of books from dusty bookshelves. I thought I would give myself a treat at the end of the week and so took Gerald and Eric Boreham to the east coast. We had fish and chips at Dunwich and ice creams on Southwold pier. For Gerald and Eric the highlight of the day was when my exhaust pipe fell off. However, I did enjoy the story Eric told me about my father. In 1948 Gerald was in Ipswich Hospital with rheumatic fever. Father took Eric and his parents to visit. It was a bit hard to visit because Gerald was in an isolation ward! Eric can remember standing outside a window on a bitterly cold day, smoking a huge pipe to keep warm, trying to catch a glimpse of his brother within. On the way home my father drove with one hand and played the mouth organ with the other. It was good to be reminded of his happy carefree days. Eric and Gerald are my jinxes. Last time I took them out the lid of my glove compartment disintegrated. Eric said, "John, you want to change your car." I thought to my self - it's the passengers I need to change!
Also in September Isaac, my nephew, started his e-mail accounts of life in Australia. They have proved highly entertaining. He has a horror of vermin - especially if it is likely to sting, bite or poison. So the day Isaac got his face covered in cobwebs walking through the park he spent an afternoon hunting his person for the black widow spider. He was very apprehensive about getting into a Sydney hostel bed after spotting a small jumpy thing on a blanket. At the time of writing he has still to see a large jumpy thing with a pouch and big ears.
In October I went to London to stop with Paul and Ruth for 5 days. I had a lovely time exploring different parts of London at my leisure. I bought a book of walks and did one a day. Paul and I walked from Waterloo to Greenwich on the south side of the river and then under the Thames to the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf before returning through Wapping to London Bridge. The extent of the redevelopment in this area is amazing and it has been done so well. The towpath of the Regents Canal, running as it does north of the city, is amazingly tranquil. In Islington I met an old lady with her dog who was as aggrieved as I was that the gates of a quaint linear park were locked. She was denied her small daily pleasure. I got a cup of coffee on the house from a cheerful black girl who must have enjoyed my good-humoured grin. A leggy student in short skirt and fishnet tights sat next to me and drank coffee in Bloomsbury Square. She sat with her back to me so I wasn't able to try out my sexy grin again! I was intrigued to watch old ladies mop down their steps in Chelsea and nannies playing hide and seek with their charges in Embury Square. I also appreciated very much the company of my brother and his wife.
Well I am running out of space. I have kept the length down this year. I earned a little money in late October doing home invigilation for handicapped Open University candidates. I enjoyed preaching at Earl Soham in November. I saw one of my old form - Anna and her darling little girl. Julia, her mum said - "Anna is back with the Lord." What good news. I wish there was more of it.
In late November I received a very nice, appreciative e-mail from a warm-hearted Amrican lady thanking me for one of my website expositions. Those that love me most will be glad I recieved this encouragement. With this last positive piece of news I wish you all a joyful Christmas and a happy New Year.