My back condition makes the easiest jobs difficult. So in December, after spell of 15 years, I delivered my last chapel newssheet round the village with help from Judy, Carolyn and Richard. At the United Carol service one staunch Anglican said he was sorry I would no longer be producing a newssheet as he had greatly enjoyed reading them. Appreciation that I did not anticipate!
I conducted an encouraging Christmas service at Barton Mills following which, Arthur, the elder wrote me an email of thanks. He quoted someone who thought I was a quiet, unassuming, gentleman who only really came alive when he preached the gospel. I have to say in all honesty that I am not quiet or unassuming and certainly not a gentleman. Sometimes, when I preach, the Holy Spirit fires me up.
Before the big day I had visits from two Deans – Dean Sykes and David Dean. Dean and I have one virtue in common – loyalty. I chatted with him about cricket, politics and his father. Malcolm is inclined to be frugal – having the heating on 1 hour a day. When his grandchildren visit they wear gloves and scarves and do exercises to warm up. Like me, he reckons his memory is failing and he is on the slippery slope to dementia.
On Christmas Day my brother Philip and I declared a Christmas truce after a certain amount of skirmishing over the religious content of my last annual letter. I had a lovely time with Philip and his family. The food was brilliant. Beccy and Lee turned up in the early evening with little Lydia. She was as good as gold and kept wide awake – enjoying all the attention she was getting. Joe’s friend Phil Mingay made the mistake of buying Joe fireworks for Christmas. So of course they had to let them off in the neighbouring park, only to arouse the ire of a resident whose dog went absolutely barmy!
My culinary efforts on Boxing Day did not begin to compare with Philip and Sandra’s. I thought I couldn’t go wrong with a turkey crown. But it was stringy. Perhaps I cooked it too long. My guests, Dorothy, John and Geoff, were too polite to complain.
At the end of December I experienced the first signs of irritable bowel. The prawns in a Waitrose fish pie left me flatulent for two days. Sad to say, I have to be careful what I eat or throw caution to the wind and trumpet away for hours.
Janet, Philip’s ex wife, called with her husband to give me a lovely, succulent, birthday fruitcake. I was very sorry to learn that after a long battle with breast cancer it has returned in the bones. I am glad Janet has had a lot of fun looking after her great niece.
Sometimes little things can raise my spirits – like the thrush that paid my garden a visit in mid-January. During the year I have had a few notable visitors – a jay and a tree creeper – but I enjoyed the thrush most. On the same day I returned from visiting Gwen in Hartest as the sun was beginning to set. Its golden rays lit up the valley sides and bathed the strato-cumulus clouds in pink light.
Dorothy Haylock entertained John Tyers and I to lunch at the end of January. Her cleaning lady had made two fine sweets for us. On congratulating Dorothy on her cleaner and cook she said, “John, you ought to advertise for a nubile, Christian lady to do for you.” I am afraid that I would be a sore disappointment for any lady of the nubile variety these days.
Winter ended on a depressing note. First, like so many others, I succumbed to a vicious, chest infection. I had b outs of wild, uncontrollable coughing that made it almost impossible to breath. A dose of antibiotics sorted me out, thank goodness. Then I was robbed again – while I was in the house. I heard the opportunist thief leave through the kitchen door. It is a pity I didn’t hear the rascal on his (or her?) way in!!
Spring It was nice to have a visit from my old pupil Rosemary Ingate on the first day of spring. I taught her at the County Grammar School and her four children at Debenham High School. It was very interesting to catch up with what her four children and one or two other notable characters from my days at Debenham were doing.
The number of birds Tom and I saw during our Friday excursions began to increase. On March 10th we saw 56 species and heard that harbinger of spring – no, not the nightingale – but the chiff-chaff with its unmistakeable call! A week or two later, quite early in the morning, as I walked to newsagents for my Daily Telegraph, I heard a thrush singing its heart out in a nearby tall tree. It was a wonderful cheering sound.
Talking of cheering sounds I enjoyed a little anecdote given by one of our visiting preachers, John Knight. His grandfather was a very poor man. He would walk around his humble abode singing, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine.” He was not so poor after all!
I had one or two strange sensations in March and equally a few lapses of concentration – like the time I tried to shave with the toothpaste. Perhaps I need a vitamin D supplement – or a brain transplant!
On April 13th I had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph. I had been prompted to write by the news that a survey of church attendees had shown that only about 50% believed in the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul argued 2000 years ago there is no point being a Christian if Jesus didn’t rise. Indeed, if that were the case Christians would be of all men most miserable.
Every other week I go shopping in Waitrose for my friend, Mrs Haylock. Since she has purchased a tablet Dorothy can search the Waitrose website for bargains. So, I am sent to scour the shelves for strange products like duck comfit. Needless to say, not ever hearing of duck comfit before, I failed to locate it. When I eventually tried it myself, it turned out to be flavourless.
Well, spring saw the beginning of the cricket season and my stints rolling the pitch – a little help to my old friend, Dennis Fisher, the grounds man. Quite a number of us turn up on Saturdays to watch including my old friend and former colleague, Tommy. I don’t think the standard of the cricket is any higher now that when I played for the first team but one thing has improved immeasurably – the teas. They are magnificent. Wives and mothers surpass themselves in preparing wonderful spreads. It is worth going to watch for a slice of Kathy Fisher’s chocolate cake.
I made the mistake one Saturday afternoon of introducing Tom to one of my old pupils, Kate, whose son was playing for Brockley. Tom said to her, “So that old b****** taught you then?” Whereupon Kate replied, “He put me off Geography for life.” This greatly amused Tom who if he repeated her comment once, did so half a dozen times.
When I got home it just so happened that I had a phone call from Lesley – a sheep farmer in Wales. She loved her Geography lessons and they left her with an abiding interest in landscapes. You can’t win them all!
Summer One of the pleasures of going to watch cricket at Brockley is to watch the children play. One tiny fellow was a champion crawler. He crawled to all points of the compass at a great rate before being retrieved by his mother. Spoil sport!
In June I went, as has been my wont lately, to North Norfolk for a break. I think it will be my last visit. The coastal strip is overcrowded, the roads hazardous and the bird reserves thronged with youngsters on school trips. Nothing attracts school parties more than field centres with upgraded toilets. This is very distressing to old codgers who like looking at birds with other old codgers and are not particularly fussy where they relieve themselves.
The prices for lunch at the Wiveton Bell have gone up and the quality if anything has gone down. One day I had sea bass on a bed of undercooked spring onions, radishes and cucumber; the result: mega bouts of flatulence. Things looked up on another day thanks to a very alluring, pretty waitress in figure hugging jeans. What a contrast to the clientele who were old and grossly overweight – a sad commentary on how years of good living destroys a person’s comeliness. Next day the waitress was more modestly attired!
On Sunday I found an Anglican Church in the small village of Aylmerton that had an evening service of prayer. I loved it – the sense of worshipping where the faithful have worshipped for hundreds and hundreds of years.
On returning home I discovered that my neighbour, Trevor, was terminally ill with cancer. Next day, Sam from down the road, with whom I do have occasional conversations, came to tell me Trevor had died. I was sorry not to know how things were until it was too late.
In July I went to visit Es, my highly regarded former colleague from my days at Debenham. She was recovering from a broken hip. After a fine lunch at Alder Carr farm we did some shopping in Tescos. Then, on to a care home in Stowmarket to visit Ros – also of Debenham fame and a dear friend of Es’ – who had given me instructions to cheer her up! Fortunately, knowing my patchy record for cheering people up, Ros was in fine form – happy and responsive. Two carers who had been hunting high and low for Ros’ spectacles finally decided to look in her spectacle case. Success at last! After much reminiscing and lots of laughs we moved to the dining area where we met up with another Debenham star, Myra. I didn’t have to cheer her up either! What a happy band we were. Finally, the icing on the cake; who should arrive but the former Head of Debenham, Mike Crawshaw, and his wife. Our mini reunion was one of high spirits and good cheer. When I got home I was totally knackered!
In August birds are scarce and often the most exciting thing about our bird watching jaunts is the erratic driving along very narrow roads. On one such occasion our route was completely blocked by a huge lorry. Tom went to investigate! The lorry was German so Tom tried speaking to the driver in French! No success! So next he tried German. The same result! In despair he tried the language he could speak the best, just, English, and discovered the driver was Macedonian and was resetting his sat nav for Northampton!
I very much enjoyed a get together with Philip and Sandra’s family – missing only Joe with an upset stomach. We met up at Becky and Lee’s home in Ely so that I could meet the latest addition to the family – Archie. It was lovely to see my great niece, Lydia, again. She is a lovely little girl, rather tottery on her feet, and wary of strange men, but a delight to behold. I also got to hold the wide awake, uncomplaining, albeit wriggly, Archie, for 10 minutes.
Autumn In early September I enjoyed meeting up with Tom and Linda Johns (former teachers at the County Upper School) courtesy of Tommy Bamber who treated us to lunch at Pezzos, an Italian restaurant in Bury. Before the lunch I sat for 45 minutes in the Abbey Gardens watching the world go by: a man with his blond haired two-year-old, an athletic young fellow with a huge poodle with a penchant for chasing grey squirrels, a succession of well dressed elderly men who had been to a funeral at the cathedral and who strangely all looked the same, wandering couples who kept taking photos of the flower beds. It was all very, very English!
In mid September I braved the M11 and M25 to visit my brother, Paul and his wife, Ruth in Hastings. All went well on journey there but it was a different matter coming home. I got diverted west away from the Dartford crossing. So I travelled the best part of all the way round the M25. It was stop – start, stop – start until beyond Heathrow. It tried my patience! What a relief to reach the exit junction to the M11 only to find myself in the wrong lane – heading for central London. I was so fed up that I virtually closed my eyes, signalled left to switch lanes and hoped for the best. I daresay I was only inches away from an inglorious exit to a better place.
I had one or two other setbacks during my stay with Ruth and Paul. I tripped over a wire when out bird watching and fell head first for the second time this year. I landed on my face – so no harm done! I also managed to lock myself out of Paul’s house and no amount of trial and error with a borrowed key managed to redress the situation. Other than that, I greatly enjoyed my visit and was sorry to come home. Paul and I went bird watching each day; the weather was good and the birds varied and numerous.
In early October, Tom and I had to bid farewell to our young friend Stu Hill who was flying to New Zealand to spend 6 months walking from the north of North island to the southernmost tip of South island – all of 2000 miles. (Please note that I have eschewed words like up and down to describe his route!)
I do get some encouragements along the way! Ashley Revett, a plumber by trade and former pupil at Debenham, took time out from working on the visitor’s centre at Lackford for a chat. He asked Tom to take a photo of the two of us on his mobile phone. Another case of beauty and the beast!
The folk at Brockley and Barton Mills are very appreciative of my Bible studies. I also benefit from the kind hospitality of Richard and Carolyn Plowman of the Brockley fellowship and Arthur and Gill Rutterford at Barton Mills.
Sadly the numbers attending the chapel at Brockley continues to dwindle as the over nineties either go to live in care homes or are confined to their own homes. We miss them greatly. So far none have actually died and so I am able to visit my old friends. It is difficult to be optimistic about the future of the church with no young people to replace the old.
I keep adding to my website as I slowly work through Matthew’s gospel. I have found it difficult because Matthew portrays Jesus at his most severe and uncompromising. I was glad to arrive at Matthew 20v29 where Jesus says that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Years and years ago I can remember a boy at Pioneer Camp singing over and over again, “He paid the ransom for me.” It is one of my abiding memories of camp. As far as I was concerned the little boy could not sing it often enough.
Finally, congratulations to brother, Peter and his wife Olive for becoming grandparents for the first time. Their grandson Lucas was very, very reluctant to leave the safety of the womb. I don’t blame him!