JR’S Annual Letter: 2018


I continued working, as has been my custom for the last sixteen years of retirement, on my website. I found preparing messages on some passages in Matthew’s gospel very challenging. Take for example the story of Jesus and the fruitless fig tree. It seems rather extreme to curse and to kill the fig which might have born fruit on another occasion. We value trees for their leaves as well as their fruit. A fig in leaf would provide a shady place to rest.

However I was much cheered to switch my attention to the Christmas story as the festive season approached. These days I rehearse a sermon in my lounge before preaching it in church. I was so moved as I preached to myself a discourse on Emmanuel – God with us – that it brought tears to my eyes. The earth was not a very safe place for God the Son to visit – but such is God’s commitment to the world of men - that Jesus came.

I gave four Christmas addresses – three at Brockley – at the United Carol Service, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I have to say that the congregations at these services were most appreciative. Indeed, it has been a year of many small encouragements and some love as well.

It is always very uplifting to receive expressions of gratitude and affection from old pupils. I was quite overwhelmed by an accolade of praise from Rachel – a much admired pupil at Debenham. She was so generous with her appreciation that I almost felt it was more than I deserved. It was the sort of tribute to be reserved for my funeral!

Not all of course was sweetness and light during the winter. I opted to join a course on how to drive safely as penance for being caught speeding – all of 35 mph through the village of Horringer. We were encouraged to ask questions on this course. I couldn’t help noticing that the person whose interventions were most unwelcome was me. People do not take to me when I am in a questioning mood. Their reaction is one of extreme wariness!

On a lighter note, my old pal, Kenny Boreham, took great pleasure in asking me, “Have you seen the snow man on the Brockley Cricket Pitch JR? It wasn’t exactly a snow man, only part of a snow man. “Which part?” you may be asking yourself. Well, considering how cold it was. it is amazing the erection survived at all!

Talking of laughs – Tom and I were discussing our list of species after a morning’s bird watching with, Paul, the resident expert at Lackford. Tom reckoned he had seen Brambling in bushes at Ampton. I had just seen dark smudges – but in generous mood I said, “Tom has probably got better eye sight than me, a better pair of binoculars and better ....” “Imagination”, chimed in Paul the sceptic.

In February I needed to go to the hospital for my annual blood test. There was a time you just spoke to a nice receptionist and were asked to wait a few minutes. Now you have to clock in. This results in a queue because the system baffles most people. But I was all right – an old lady of about 90 showed me how to work it. I haven’t lost my appeal to the old ladies!

One Saturday morning, as February drew to and end, as I walked to the newsagent in Glastonbury Road I heard a distant thrush singing. Then, as I returned to the car, I made out the thin and scratchy song of the hedge sparrow before spotting it high in the hedge. Great – two harbingers of spring. Not so great – time to get out in the garden again, to cut back my fuchsia bushes and prune the roses – a sure recipe for a sore back.

Spring Well most of March didn’t feel like spring exactly. Day after day was wet and gloomy. I did have the rarest of experiences in the middle of the month. On this special night I slept soundly. When I awoke my back hardly ached. But strangest of all I was incredibly happy. I almost sang for joy. It revealed what life could be like!

I was fascinated by one of David Attenborough’s Natural History programs on the ability of animals to count. It seems that a certain species of ant that ventures forth from the communal nest finds its way back by counting the number of steps it takes away from the nest and noting every change of direction.

I was incredibly busy in April. For two weeks in succession I gave three Bible studies. This was in part due to visiting speakers having to call off due to poor health. On April 11th I conducted the funeral of my dear old friend, Phyllis Bishop. She was born and bred in Brockley and I had known her almost all my life. It was good to see several representatives of the local cricketing fraternity at the funeral. Phyllis was mother and grandmother to Suffolk cricketers. In my tribute to Phyllis I recounted a small incident that several of the congregation found amusing. Phyllis was very deaf. On one occasion she mistook what I said to her for a proposal of marriage. When I explained that she had, in fact, misheard me her long sigh of relief did nothing for my self esteem.

On April 13th two decrepit old bird watchers – Tom and JR – spotted their greatest number of species at their 3 favourite West Suffolk sites. Cavenham Heath provided us with: stone curlew, common curlew, wheatear, wood lark, stone chat, swallow and wren. On the telegraph wires between Tuddenham and Higham were four corn bunting – best birds of the year.

It was with great sadness that the evening service at Brockley was discontinued due to lack of support. It took me until April to commence attending somewhere else. Eventually I joined the folk at Westgate in Bury St Edmunds for their evening service. I have been warmly welcomed and enjoy my conversations with old friends Bob Cotton and Henry Pawsey.

In April I had the first sign of trouble to come. I had been standing on a chair to replace my slow cooker on top of a cupboard. Then, as was my custom, I jumped off the chair. My left leg buckled and I almost came to grief. More tales of woe to follow!

I was delighted to receive an email from an old pupil of my days teaching at the County Upper School, Bury St Edmunds. He is one of the very few of my former pupils to have entered the ministry. For 30 years he was pastor of a church in Ely. At present Gary is working for a mission to Laos. It was very encouraging to hear from Gary especially as he was complimentary about my style of teaching and my website.

One of the more annoying habits of my good friend Tom is his tendency to say as we drive between bird reserves, “Can you hear the yellow hammer JR?” “Listen,” says Tom, “Du, du, du, du, du, du, deeeeeeeee.” Now I know the yellow hammer’s song from boyhood: “A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeese.” I suspect old Tommy is just drawing attention to my growing deafness! I can never hear more than a couple of du dus - could be anything Thomas!

I enjoyed my usual annual visit to see my old colleagues, Es and Ros, at the end of May. Es and I have lunch together and then go on to visit Ros in her care home in Stowmarket. We reminisced about our time spent teaching at Debenham High School. It made Ros laugh a lot – she was on the best of form. Sadly my own poor health has precluded a second visit this year

I had a few strange sensations towards the end of spring. They don’t last long and are a bit like migraines without the headaches or the sickness. Things turned more sinister as the year progressed.


I finally paid a visit to a young doctor in the Guildhall and Barrow practice about my back. This set in train a whole series of investigations stretching over a period of five months – but no treatment. I very much envied Andrew, the son of two of our church members. He had been very poorly. A stay in Addenbrooke’s Hospital had done him no good! In desperation he tried an old South African remedy. It involved being rubbed all over with a raw egg while still in its shell! Then he drank a glass of lime juice for three successive days. And then ...... he was a whole lot better!!

As I left the hospital – after yet another blood test – I managed to seriously embarrass a nurse. She was standing at the entrance with a collecting tin. I thought: things have come to a tidy pass when the nurses are sent out to beg from the public. Still, perhaps, she needed encouraging; so I rummaged around in my pockets and found a pound coin. As I prepared to make my donation the sweet young thing said, “I can’t take that.” She wasn’t holding a collecting tin but a large beaker full of coffee.

In June I was very upset to hear that our super reliable and helpful chapel caretaker, Ann, had been taken ill on holiday with a blood clot on the lung. Our prayers have been answered and Ann has made a slow but good recovery to the relief of all who love her.

I am afraid that this annual letter – unlike any of its predecessors – contains numerous references to ill health. For several years I have had, every so often, what best can be described as alien sensations rippling eerily down my chest. It is a bit like having a migraine without the headache or sickness. They haven’t worried me very much. However, I had one of these sensations while giving a Bible study one Tuesday evening at Brockley. The result was that for five or six minutes I spoke utter drivel. I gradually recovered and was able to finish my talk sensibly. The incident has affected my confidence. What happened once can happen again! It is not what you want to happen while conducting a funeral service! Well I have kept speaking at Brockley and Barton Mills – relying more than in the past on God’s help.

Every year I get invited to the prize giving at Debenham High School. This year I made the effort and attended. Unfortunately I was seated between a huge man and a bulky woman. I didn’t have room to so much as wiggle. The highlights were a clarinet solo, singing the school hymn and a big, but all too brief, hug from my old colleague Cheryl who looks no older than when I taught with her nearly 20 years ago.

Speaking of hugs! One Saturday in July I went to watch Brockley play cricket against Elveden. I staggered into the pavilion to have a look at the scorecard when I was accosted by a strange, elderly man. He said, “Hoy!” and banged me on the shoulder, then, “Hoy!” and banged me on the other shoulder. After several more, “Hoys” he threw his arms around me and hugged me. It was deaf and dumb Stevie Ashton who used to play cricket for Brockley years ago. Never have I been welcomed to a cricket match with such rapture.

In mid August I returned from a shopping spree in Waitrose to find my house had been invaded by a plague of large but dopey flies. It seems the heat had got to these flies which made them easy, albeit unpleasant, to swat. In the afternoon I went for tea at the house of my friend and former colleague Mrs Haylock. It was a wonderful meal thanks to Tom John’s sandwiches and sausage rolls, Tom Bamber’s wine and the results of my foray to Waitrose – cream cakes! I was just a bit under the weather – like those dozy blue bottles.

Yet another former colleague whom I meet up with from time to time, John Tyers, had a tale to tell about his visit to the Ukraine. Unfortunately he succumbed to pneumonia during his visit and was admitted to hospital. Facilities were rather primitive in the hospital, so much so that he had to inquire what he would do if he needed to urinate at night. An orderly provided him with an empty coca cola bottle. John said that this would have been fine but he was hallucinating to such an extent that he thought he had two penises. When I regaled the spectators at a Brockley Cricket match with this story Vic Hill growled amidst the guffaws, “Should have asked for another bottle.”


As I took my customary rest between Boots and Waitrose, I watched with pleasure a little black girl skipping along between her grandparents. I called out, “I wish I could dance along like you.” An old man limping along behind her growled out with no little bitterness, “And so do I!” If anything the little girl redoubled her efforts.

September 1st was a lovely day. The sun shone brightly. It was pleasantly warm and windless. There is no game more sociable on a fine day than cricket. There were lots of family groups with grandparents keeping an eye on their grandchildren. I managed to give one two year old a brief tickle and a high five. What a dear little thing she was! There was the usual gathering of pundits and former cricketers nursing a variety of joint pains but glorying in past exploits. About one thing we all agree; the standard of the Brockley teas has improved immeasurably. We are all invited to tuck in. To crown it all the bells of the distant church rang out to celebrate the marriage of Gillian whose father, Len, once bowled Brockley to many a famous victory.

My friend, Dorothy Haylock, enjoys sending me out to search the Waitrose shelves for obscure wines on special offer. She excelled herself recently by listing two wines in the Louis Philippe range. I haven’t altogether forgotten my history lessons with old Dr Wood (Splinter). I had a pretty good idea where Louis Philippe wines would be. I scoured the shelves devoted to French Wines. In the end I gave up and begged help of a wandering shop assistant. One variety was made in the U.S.A and the other in Chile.

I conducted two more funerals in the Autumn: those of Robert Morley and Edna Chaffey. You always discover something new about the deceased when preparing their tribute. I would never have guessed that Robert was a devotee of sports cars. I was intrigued to learn that when wee Cliffy White started school, Edna took him under her wing and protected him from unwanted attention. When I travelled on the bus it was the girls who needed protection from Cliffy.

In October I enjoyed a visit to Ely to see my niece Beccy, her husband, Lee, and her children Lydia and Archie. I went with Philip and Sandra. Later we were joined by Joseph, Beccy’s brother. It was nice to spend some time in the garden where we were joined by the family pet – a hyper active dog. It was very difficult to decide who enjoyed playing in the sand pit most, Lydia, Joseph or the dog!

In October I was checked out by a spinal surgeon in Ipswich Hospital. The investigation took all of four hours. It didn’t help having to wait an hour and a half for a blood test. My brother, Philip, who accompanied me to the hospital, was very patient. The spinal surgeon said that he thought I needed an operation on my neck vertebra because they were impinging on my spinal cord. Later, on Nov 1st, I was studied by 2 neurophysiologists. They concluded my neck shouldn’t be operated on because the symptoms didn’t warrant a dangerous operation. The weakness in my left leg, in particular, was due to problems with vertebra in the lower back. I found this very disconcerting! However, after another meeting with the spinal surgeon who insisted that problems in the legs could be caused by neck vertebra, I decided I had best entrust myself to him.

The date for an operation on my neck was fixed for November 28th. I had hoped to end this annual letter on a happy note – reporting all was well. Unfortunately the date has been changed to Dec 11th. This has seriously inconvenienced my brother Paul who had organised his diary to help me from November 28th. So if anyone reading this epistle wants to know the outcome of old JR being under the surgeon’s knife they can find out by looking at his website: www.jrtalks.com – the personal section. God bless you all

I have to say that so far I have not experienced any benefit from the operation. I came through it with flying colours and only spent one night in hospital. A nurse in the operating theatre said I was a model patient. I came round quickly with no swearing and cursing.

I had some new experiences in hospital. One old nurse gave me a bed bath. She thought my scrotum needed scrubbing brush treatment. Another one removed my catheter: “Take a deep breath, right: One, two, three – YIPPEEEE!” I didn’t think there was much to yippee about.

I did seize the opportunity to flirt a little. I found a very pretty physiotherapist who used to attend Debenham: Helen Turkington. I began to pet her a little – stroking her arm – only to be stopped by one of her colleagues, a surly old female, who growled, “You ain’t in school now.”

When I went for an X ray the radiologist manoeuvred me into position: “Come closer, Mr Reed – closer – right up to me.” I just whispered: “That’s no hardship!” The delightful young thing took it in good part.

I went to have my wound re-bandaged this morning by my practice nurse. Three nurses at Ipswich Hospital failed to bandage it properly. So, too, did the practice nurse. The bandages were falling apart before I left the surgery. It is a good thing my brother is staying with me. He is used to whiskery necks – which is more than can be said for the nurses I encountered. So when we got home he did some repairs – although his fingers were not exactly sterile. I needed both a tender and expert touch!

I am grateful for the kindnesses I have been shown, the numerous prayers offered on my behalf, the phone calls and emails of encouragement. I am especially grateful to my brothers Philip and Paul for their aid at a difficult time. My mother would be proud of them!

I will probably have, God willing, to go through it all again in 3 or 4 months. The surgeon said he may need to operate on my lower back.

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