Hello again! Time to get that clipboard out and begin checking those boxes: Are those chestnuts roasting? Is that fire open? Tree-tops glistening? Children listening? (Yeah, like!) Days: Merry? Bright? Love-light gleaming? (Er… please explain) Snow? Mistletoe? Presents on the tree? (That’s what the lyrics actually say – On the tree. Ours are always under by the way, never tried the ‘on the tree’ idea, Health & Safety Executive might have a few words to say. Or, it’s just occurred to me that maybe they are very little titchy wee presents perhaps. Now there’s an idea.) OK let’s continue with that box ticking: Heart light? Troubles out of sight? Faithful friends dear and near? Yule-tide gay? (Ooer… let’s leave it there shall we!)
Here we go again then, Christmas eh? Seems like the last one has only just finished! Possibly this is because some shops over here started marketing Christmas ‘
crap‘ first week in September (see photo),
which was only a couple of months after they had finally got exhausted the January sales of the stuff they didn’t manage to sell last year. This may mean that if global warming conspiracy theorists have their way then we may be entering into a quasi-anti-Narnia era where it’s always Christmas but never winter. Not sure which is worse. Is that what it’s like in Australia and New Zealand anyway? Answers on a post-card… no forget I wrote that… comments below please.
Actually we quite like the changing seasons generally and although being placed in the outflow of the North Atlantic Drift and thus warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream the Channel Islands maintain a fairly temperate, mild maritime climate – frost is rare, few hibernating animals, plants which are generally annuals in Northern Europe become perennials, palm trees proliferate, high annual sunshine hours – a tax-haven and a veritable subtropical paradise I hear you think…
but don’t forget that the word Atlantic is hidden away in North Atlantic Drift!
So despite the warm ground temperature and blooming flora and fauna nevertheless during the winter months we do get buffeted by incredible thumping, agitating, penetrating, debilitating, tempestuous, progress-defeating winds from the West and Sou-West, like the storm which is upon us now as I write, and which has succeeded in cancelling out ferry sailings to and from the UK for the past three days! Now on a day like today when you get to the top of the hill behind our house and stand (if you can!) and watch that same majestic wind pummeling the sea into shape, seeing great walls of it flung 30ft high and over the coastal defenses, chucking huge 14lb pebbles, along with flotsam and jetsam over the road and onto the roofs and into the gardens of homes on the western seaboard, feeling that same cyclonic blast sweep up the rain to send it horizontally into your face, actually then you can appreciate being alive, and the beauty of the changing the seasons.
I love the Spring, the Autumn and the Summer, don’t misunderstand me – from that same vantage point hidden in the little pine copse at the summit of Ruette de la Tour, on a Summer’s day you can see children playing in the sand at Grandes Rocques, fishing boats bobbing for their crab-pots out by Les Grunes, Nor-West of Cobo, picnickers at Port Soif, even hear the smack of leather on willow from the cricketers on La Mare de Carteret – that’s fine and majestic also. But on a day like today you hear nothing but the scream of the wind and your own heartbeat. How wonderful to be alive. Beautiful in every season.
So it was nevertheless a little odd for Guernsey to be gifted with not one but two dollops of snow last winter, just after the time I was writing the GG10. My father said that in his 98 years he had never seen snow before Christmas in the islands. Then in January this year we had some more. Which was entertaining enough in the UK but here in the Channel Islands we just have no real plan for snow; not even 2.5 inches of it (which was about all it amounted to at worst!) So the kids enjoyed snow days, transport came to a standstill on and off the island, everyone stayed indoors and generally one came to the conclusion that just maybe we weren’t living in the 21st Century after all.
2011 was the year we celebrated 25 years of marriage – a quarter-century of coupleness – and fittingly, thanks to the generosity of friends we were able to celebrate this with an out-of-this-world-but-very-much-still-in-it holiday at a resort aptly named Couples in Jamaica. For two weeks. Two weeks?! Just the two of you? What on earth did you do for two weeks? I again hear you think. Well the answer to that is for us to know and for you to guess. Suffice to say we feel suitably qualified to host fulfilled married life seminars for a few more years to come.
We got married in August 1986, but the holiday offer was for February, so that is when we went, which included Valentines Day thrown in, so… Ah! all sweet and nice and romantic, slushy-wushy, nostalgia-isn’t-what-it-used-to-be, and the like. Yes, it was beautiful and for us very timely as the latter months of 2010, over the Christmas period and into January 2011 we had begun to struggle to look after Dad at home. On Christmas Day last year he was feeling pretty weak, but decided to sit up in his chair for lunch, and we gathered around him and his beloved Hammond as a family in the morning to sing a few carols and songs (happily andtearfully!) with Dad lifting up his hands at certain points and crying out “Take me Jesus!” in Guernsey French! Yep! Just a little on the emotional side.
We had the kindly help of a fantastic bunch of Care Attendants and Nurses who would drop by three times a day towards the end (not forgetting Betty who had been Mum and Dad’s Home Help for over 14 years!), but even then when you’re caring for someone near and dear to you, knowing he is finding it difficult to live on another day, emotionally stretched endeavoring to keep him stimulated, comfortable, interested in eating even, being on call via a bell/life-line system, waking sometimes three times in the night for toilet lifts, or to pick him up off the floor because he ‘didn’t want to disturb us again’ and had fallen down trying to do it himself, clearing up after accidents, hosting a regular stream of visitors to see Dad (some with strong if genuinely concerned ‘opinions’ as to how we should be caring for him), as well as looking after a teenage family, doing a fair day’s work both in ‘caring professions’ too… it’s not just the physical tiredness that builds up! Dad could appreciate this too, long gone were the times where we could leave him with a family member and although he did not like hospitals, when the opportunity for two weeks respite care came up he encouraged us to take it. With Dad safely in hospital while we were away, this helped us to find space and time to think, pray and consider how we would face the future. We had checked out a few nursing homes and in direct answer to prayer, on our return the one that was top of our list informed us that Dad could move in within a few days. He spent exactly one month there before slipping peacefully away in his sleep one night in April, and like Mum three and half years earlier, we were happy that we had cared for and nursed him at home with us all those years excepting just a few weeks near the end. It was a great celebration at Church on the Rock, too many happy funny memories to recount, but Lucy and I shared from our perspectives and Grace led the singing of one of Papa’s (and his Mum before him) favourite old French hymns “Christ est ma vie” [Christ is my life].
I share this not so much to air my confession to the world, but because I know that many of you dear folk out there are either going through similar times with loved ones, or will face it sooner or later. We faced it early compared to most because of the peculiarities of my adoption and my parents age and longevity. But it amounts to the same thing. Be encouraged, we felt stretched in every way – you will too – but it’s worth it all, we feel alive, satisfied, fulfilled, and we’ve been able to grieve healthily with no regrets.
Also finally we were able to resolve the tombstone problem which had irked us since we buried Mum in 2007. In digging Mum’s grave they had hit rock and so had informed us that there would not be room for another coffin in the same grave, Dad would probably have to buried alongside when the time came. This unexpected problem was compounded by Dad’s realization that the cost of the masonry, already causing him to be aghast, would now be doubled. So he had insisted that we put one stone, in between the two graves, with engraved arrows pointing the relative direction of the respective deceased, e.g. “Millie, here ->… Will, there <-" As you may imagine, this did not exactly meet with our approval, but never mind how much we tried to persuade him otherwise, he insisted he would not have us waste our money on two headstones. As a result no stone was erected in the last four years. However when the time came this year the sextant informed us that there was in fact room for Dad's coffin after all, and so that is where we laid him, with no need for two stones, nor directional arrows, etc. Phew!
Judith got a permanent job this year (she had been working in two part-time casual positions since returning as a qualified nurse – a few hours per week in Community and a few in a Clinic). She now works for the Medical Specialist Group – the private group of consultants and specialists that are contracted to do the work normally undertaken by NHS at Hospitals in the UK. It involves seeing both private and government-funded (through public insurance) patients. It is not a lot more in terms of hours (20 per week) but now these are contracted hours so we have to plan time off a little more carefully in advance. She's really enjoying it though and she's part of a great team of nurses.
Our boat, Bare Necessities, has not been used so much this year, or should I say Judith has not used our boat so much this year! Read GG10 from last year to discover perhaps one reason for this. However despite the wicked winter we had an incredibly mild Spring and Jon and the girls enjoyed a few excursions on the water, taking friends over to neighbouring islands, and in the Easter holidays even a wonderful evening sunset picnic (lovingly prepared by loving daughters) on a beach on the east coast of Herm overlooking St Peter Port – absolutely delightful!
Judith has however overcome some of her conservative inhibitions and ventured into the Apple Mac world through the acquisition of an iPad – which she loves. Although I am still trying to get her to do a tutorial. It really bugs me when she discovers something simple by accident and exclaims “Oo! Look! It can do this!” Still, this is progress.
This has been a year of shedding pounds, not only if you, like us, hold shares in European equities, but for Judith and me, also shedding weight, real body mass. Without going on a diet! Yes. We have just consumed a bit less, and week by week we have ballooned a bit less. We’re thinking of marketing this incredible technique, so here’s a sneak preview of the opening chapter:
“Eat a little less.”
Revolutionary & remarkable eh? Wonder why no-one’s thought of that before. To be fair we have also been going to talk to someone each week about what we’ve been eating and getting ourselves weighed which brings me to a sneak preview of the second chapter. Here it is:
“Talk to someone about this.”
Oh yes, I can see this book really selling in the millions. I wanted to call it “The Dunce’s Diet” but Judith tells me we’re not really on a diet, and she’s right, I don’t feel like I am. Which is good news indeed. Not much exercise has accompanied this weight reduction experience although Judith did go to a couple of Zumba sessions with Lucy. I did not accompany them, but was sufficiently bemused by the fact that my wife crawled back into the house each time, exhausted, panting, red-faced, sweaty (sorry, glowing) complaining of aches and pains, and yet my daughter’s comment was “Mum, you’re not even trying!”
Emily became a voter this year (in Guernsey Politics) and also has begun driving! “Our baby is driving cars! Arrhhh!” But don’t worry, so far she’s only managed to drive one at a time. And only with supervision. [Interesting word that, supervision. It's not as glamorous as it sounds is it?] But returning to our baby Ems, what happened to all those years? She’s now passed her GSCEs and moved on to Guernsey Grammar’s Sixth Form Centre where she’s studying Art, Photography and Media Studies.
Grace had a bit of an up and down year at Uni, partly because she was away for a lot of the time her Papa was dying (although she miraculously made it back on the boat in stormy seas to say ‘goodbye’ a few hours before he passed away), but she has now entered into her final year in London and has great prospects of a job with Sovereign Trust, a young up and coming outfit based in Guernsey where she has had a holiday job for the past two years. She seems to have taken an interest in actuarial science. Hmm… suppose someone has to. In the Summer, as part of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain Grace sang in a BBC Prom at the Albert Hall. Now we try never to boast about our kids here so, let me just say that it was Mahler 2 “Resurrection Symphony” and Gustavo ‘The Dude” Dudamel was conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. You can hear the incredible finale here. It is probably my favourite symphony of all time, but the day was made that much more memorable by the fact that Judith and I could not get seats (all tickets went within a few minutes of the box office opening months before!) and so we had to do like all good promenaders do and queue for seven hours or so outside to pay £5 each for a standing-room-only ticket and hope to get in. They turned over a thousand away. Fortunately we did get in. The last time we did this we were students! We were entertained during the long, hot day of standing/sitting/lying in line by happening to be positioned near a stalwart promenader who also happened to be Mahler’s greatest living fan. You can guess the rest.
Lucy, now 22, we are proud to announce… invested in a classic British Mini this year, which means she has enjoyed all the thrills of classic British motor car ownership including uncomfortable driving positions, being nearly impossible to get in and out of, unpredictable suspension, rust, water seepage, breakdowns, expensive repairs, with enough storage capacity for a couple of sandwiches, along with the knowledge that she is driving a car everyone double-takes, admires and coos at, and is privately thankful that they do not own. Seriously, though, we are proud to announce that Lucy has got engaged to her long-standing and only boyfriend Luke Vidamour (of CourageHaveCourage fame – a Guernsey band that played at Reading/Leeds Festivals this year for those of you in the know! Grace’s boyfriend Ollie is also in the band. We’re in the process of considering Emily’s options.) We are absolutely delighted, over-the-moon, and hey-diddle-diddle about them! What a great year! A wedding is being planned for late next summer.
We renovated the flat in the wing of Feugré Villa that we original established for Dad and Mum to move into in 2004, and now we have a useful little one-bedroom unit (with space for a few little’uns if necessary) for friends to use. You read that correctly. Since the summer we have also had a lodger living with us in the rooms above the flat. Luke, an unfortunate choice of name for a Le Tocq lodger (earning him the nicknames Luke No.2, or Luke-the-lesser) is a great bloke who just happens to be a manager at Waitrose too, which, shall we say, comes in handy from time to time.
We paid the regular annual visit to the White House, Herm, on our actual Wedding Anniversary in August, also a family holiday in France, around St Palais-sur-Mer as usual.
This was an historic year as we finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia, having read one book in the series virtually every year we have been on our annual French holiday since Emily was old enough to join in. It was of course the Last Battle this year. Laughs were laughed, tears were shed, and there were the usual requests late in the night for “just another chapter, oh pleeeeease!”
Other countries have also featured significantly in our forays this year, especially Romania, to visit our growing gang or friends in Brasov and Iasi – what incredible saints! Also we enjoyed sorties to Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands for the first time. The Low Countries trip was initiated by our developing friendship with New Wine Europe, and was especially fascinating and encouraging. Brussels, Amsterdam & Eindhoven featured, along with a stop in Den Haag to check out Chris Taylor’s excellent Redeemer International church. All opening up warm new friendships in ministry and mission. We feel very much at one with our brothers and sisters in these nations often facing very similar issues to us. France increasingly features again on the ministry radar as we work with the Newfrontiers churches based there to see more mission, growth, leadership development and church planting in that nation ripe for revival.
One of the factors which has released Jon more outside of the local church this year has been the addition of Paul Chesworth to our staff as executive pastor. Paul and Jon have known each other for over nine years as Paul has been a Methodist minister in Guernsey during that time and worked with Jon in Evangelical Alliance and New Wine environments. Paul and Liz have been an immediate huge asset to the church and we are so grateful that miraculously they have been granted permission to remain here with us.
You may have noticed that there hasn’t been much name-dropping in this GG. I’ve really come to dislike name-droppers, as I was telling the Queen only a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted recently by the media to ask me to comment on why I was the third most followed Guernsey personality on Twitter. Of course that was easy; #1 & #2 aren’t real Guernsey personalities! Jenson Button (#1, with a mere 706, 103 following him – it’ll be over 750k by the time you’ve read this I guess!) is a UK ex-pat who moved here only 12 months ago, and Andy Priaulx (#2, with a meagre 14,432) is just his friend. Priaulx is a French name anyway. I’m only 13,583 behind too. They’re both into motor racing, now where can you do that in Guernsey? So they spend all their time elsewhere. Yes, and there are at least two other Guerns I know who tweet regularly, not counting Judith who is on Twitter but regularly forgets her password so does not. [Don't forget to follow me on Twitter by the way - here!]
So that’s it for this year folks! Drink up that mulled wine now and get back to some proper work. Your country needs you. And even if not, the EU does.
Much love to all of you this Christmas – May the God of all grace grant that you defy the current economic logic of the prophets of doom and let Peace and Prosperity be yours in the New Year!
(We’re still here)