Warning: this missive may contain fake news and is NSFW
Joyous and gladsome tidings O friends and family near and far! What a wondrous, fabulous and utterly scrumptious year 2018 has been for us, we’d truly just love to share all our news of the good fortune which has been ours throughout every waking and sleeping hour. We hope you are sitting comfortably, ready to celebrate along with us!
We saw in 2018 with panache and heterosexual abandon along with our friends Paul and Mandy Hayter in Rennes, Brittany, France, European Union. It is perhaps not insignificant [apologies to those reading this in another language as the subtleties of English double negatives are likely to be lost in translation] that we are ending this vintage year of 2018 also with the Hayters.
It is perhaps helpful to point out that they have not spent the intervening weeks and months with us, but our paths did cross on a few days here and there. This year however, they will be seeing in the New Year with us in Guernsey.
The trip to France at the start of 2018 was followed immediately by Jon hiking the entire Pyrenees in his Birkenstocks to raise funds for Sri Lankan feral cats. Huge thanks to all those who so generously supported. He reached the sponsorship target of £4.87 on day 23 and so was able to be airlifted at a remarkably reasonable cost of £35,604.87 to the Beirut General Hospital, the absolute top-notch global clinic for bunions, where he spent the next two days negotiating his exit and eating humous. Whilst Judith had so much time on her hands she managed to complete her life-long ambition of knitting a brand new line of swimwear for donkeys. Amazing.
Back in France after New Year chez Hayter, we travelled down to our little house in Pons, just south of Cognac and north of Bordeaux which we had purchased just a few weeks before (see GG17). Our year has been peppered with several short trips and one long one to this little gem of a ruined shack, in order, firstly to decide a priority for necessary travaux, to work out a budget for them, to reprioritise (once we knew the budget!) and then to choose contractors to do some of the major work. Ah! French tradesmen. You remember the book A Year in Provence? Yeah. You get the picture.
More on our Petite Maison à Pons later.
The highlight of the year, apart from all the above, was most surely the birth of our first grandchild – a boy! – Beau Benaiah Le Tocq Smith on April 5th.
Grace and Ollie did so well. OK Grace mainly I guess. Ollie watched incredulously and obeyed orders, like we men do. And what a beau Beau is! Jon was in France speaking at a conference at the time. One of the hosts introduced him as “récemment devenu grandpère” and asked if it was a boy or a girl etc. Jon replied “Il est beau” [Meaning “he is handsome”] and there were many nods; of course you would say your grandson is good-looking. “En plus, il s’appelle Beau” Jon continued, much to the confusion of those present – “your daughter has called her son Handsome?” – Beau is not really used as a name in French! We’re having lots of fun with Beau and his parents, as are his aunts and uncle, although he is a tad wary of Jon at the moment, and often cries when he sees him (“what’s new?” I hear you ask)
Judith has been travelling to France with Jon more this year, partly due to her reducing her nursing hours so as to free up time she would otherwise have had to take as holiday, but also as she gets more involved alongside him in ministry to leaders and churches in New Ground and Nouvelles Frontières France. Judith also accompanied Lucy to Hillsong’s Colour Conference in Wembley in the Spring, where they had an ab fab time with thousands of other women, bumped into many old friends, laughed and cried a lot, and generally came back encouraged, re-envisioned and…colourful, I guess.
Lucy narrowly missed out to Lily James in the starring role of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society movie. But her disappointment was short lived as she has recently been informed that a role is being purposely created for her in the sequel: The Guernsey Paramilitary & Gluten–Free Fish Cake Sisterhood (working title). Sorry that was a bit corny [see what I did there?]
Our sons-in-law Luke and Ollie have become quasi-middled aged and taken a serious interest in all things golf.
In fact Jon has donated his set of clubs to a friend of theirs so that the three of them can hit it off. Jon is very grateful now to have an excuse when asked to play.
It was Judith’s mum – Miriam’s – 80th birthday this year and the family and siblings gathered from across the globe to celebrate in September. Miriam has actually ventured three times to Guernsey in the last 12 months; she was with us over last Christmas, along with her sister Carol and Judith’s youngest brother Ian and partner Adam; Miriam visited us again in June and once more in November – the attraction of a great-grandson perhaps?
Jon discovered a new hobby this year, which he took to with a passion. He has started collecting parking tickets. So besotted did he become with this new pass-time that at one point he lost count of whether he had actually paid (for) them. No matter, for the friendly agencies of Guernsey Law Enforcement helpfully send out a reminder. Fine if you remember to do something about the reminder. Fine too, actually if you don’t. The latter fine eventually morphs into a summons, which was, in the event, sent to Judith, as the car was (fortunately?) registered in her name. For some reason Judith was not very inclined to pay a visit to a Magistrate the week of her birthday. For some reason she wanted to point the finger at Jon. Anyhow after some gentle words of patience and compassion, she managed to avoid the court hearing and Jon paid up!
Having chosen a near-septuagenarian red haired builder named Bernard to undertake the major building work in our French house (spec: digging out and removal of existing flooring on the ground floor, opening passage-way between lounge and kitchen, laying new concrete floor partout, renewing drainage and laying new connection to rear via garage, etc.) we then chose a blond, over-enthusiastic near-teenager named Micky as sparky (spec: complete removal and renewal of the Napoleonic electrics and installation of heating). These works began just after Easter and were due to complete in June, in time for us to arrive late July for a month of holiday and smaller work we planned to undertake ourselves. The two main contractors needed to liaise and cooperate in order to achieve these fundamental works.
This they did to an extent.
Bernard completed his work. On time. On budget. Un bon mec. Micky on the other hand, to date, has not yet finished. When we arrived in July we had lights upstairs (mostly) but none downstairs. No heating (not that we needed it in 35ºC). No hot water. No sockets in the kitchen. Nor downstairs anywhere!
Meanwhile, while Bernard-the-Builder had been digging out the earth floor to put in a DPC and concrete he fell through a 7 foot hole! And discovered a medieval wine cellar we didn’t know we had! There are about a hundred bottles down there (sadly 99 of them were empty) and a whole load of dirt, rubble and mess of the type that accumulates in the 150 years or so our neighbours reckon it has been sealed up. We haven’t decided what to do with it as yet, and lacking sufficient budgetary resources, we coped with a large access hole in the corner of the kitchen during the summer!
Jon has now built a wooden hatch to cover it, much to Judith’s relief, as during the summer she remarked “One glass of champagne and someone could easily fall down there and seriously hurt themselves, you know, like a young child for example…”
– Then let’s not give champagne to the children
– Oh Jon! You know what I mean
Spending nearly four weeks down there in the summer enabled us to get to know the neighbours a little. This included the artisan bakers next door, whose aromas and fine baguettes, pains & patisserie we awake to each day; the old monsieur across the street who we soon discovered rises very early, fetches his pain, and either installs himself outside his front door on a stool or propped on his window ledge to watch the world go by; Olivier & Ingrid – now wonderful friends with whom we are on tutoyering* terms – who run the Chambres d’Hote which we used for visiting until we had a bedroom and bathroom up and going. The latter have introduced us to many more, invited us for apéros, dinner with more friends, town late night markets and festivities, and helped Judith into the deep end of speaking French with full-blown discussions on European politics, Brexit and social policy! They have been just wonderful.
Talking of bedrooms. One of our summer aims was to decorate and furnish one bedroom in our maison (we were sleeping on camp beds up to this point). We planned a trip to Ikea Bordeaux (about an hour away) in order to buy a bed, mattress, furniture for said bedroom as well as the kitchen and lounge, garden furniture, etc. We also needed to procure a substantial amount of wood panelling, and tools etc. from ironmongers and the like. Jon decided the best thing to do would be to hire a large van from Le Clerc. Something he knew friends had done. Presented with a choice of 5 vehicle sizes, the names of which meant nothing to him, Jon plumped for the middle one. It was gigantic. Half of Ikea could have fitted in it. We had some, ahem, fun negotiating the small lanes of our medieval town in it. There were nearly a few international incidents. We learnt a few new expletives. In French.
Judith chose a very comfortable mattress. Very. She often doesn’t sleep well, so it was important that it was a decent thickness. As a result, it was not one of those you could roll up. Just a well we hired such a gigantic van, justified Jon. However, one thing we hadn’t considered in moving large King size heavy bulky thick mattresses, is how one manoeuvres said items around quasi-spiral stair cases. That is after you have manhandled it out the rented juggernaut which is now blocking up the main street of Pons. Just as well we had learnt those new expletives, thought Jon. They came in handy. Especially when the mattress is stuck half-way up the stair, around a tight bend, and will neither go up nor down. At one point Judith had concluded that she would be sleeping downstairs that night. Alone. Possibly forever. Jon was marooned at the top, on t’other side of very comfortable mattress. Eventually – after Judith’s really silly, useless and daft idea of trying to remove the plastic covering from the jammed mattress, proved to provide some minor assistance in Jon’s efforts to budge the thing around the corner – the mattress made it into the bedroom. There to stay for the next century or two, resolved Jon.
We tackled the jungle too whilst we were there. It can now possibly be described as a garden, complete with pear tree (no partridge as yet, though there are french hens down the road) and some beautiful flowering plants donated to us by our kind neighbours. We have visited recently in December, spending a week there. Whilst the electrics still need completing, the floor needs tiling, and the kitchen, er… putting in, we can camp there in relative comfort. For us, the diversion – even doing chores and decoration – is a wonderful relaxation. We laugh, we talk, we drink tasty pineau and vin de la region and are generally anonymous. We are truly grateful for our life.
2018 was also the year that Emily Abigail came home. After graduating in the summer of 2017 she spent the the following 12 months serving her local church in Bournemouth – St Swithun’s – as an intern. Part of a team of nine young people who helped run community services, youth and student ministry, Alpha, Marriage and Parenting courses, training, media and comms, as well as Sunday services. She thoroughly enjoyed it, learnt much, and worked part time as a sales assistant at Cath Kidston to earn a few pennies. The latter proved useful also, as in August 2018 she was appointed as Assistant Manager in a High Street retail fashion and luxury items boutique in St Peter Port. She has settled into the little attic rooms above the flat where Jon’s parents used to live, which is just fine for all of us. She’s loving being an auntie too!
2018 was additionally the year that Coco the cat died. What a way to go though! He came in for his supper as usual. Had a little cuddle with Emily. Ate some Red Leicester lovingly prepared as usual by Jon. Afterwards he lay on the floor and stretched out provocatively (Coco, not Jon – but see what I did there?) Drank some full cream Guernsey milk. Looked pretty darned pleased with himself. Then promptly went outside into the dark, laid down in the yard and gave up the ghost. Probably a surfeit of dairy I hear you say. Probably. But he was a happy 12 year old cat, and he left happy, although we were sad, but that was that.
Judith has launched a support group for Head & Neck Cancer Sufferers this year. It is something she has felt called to do for a while so it was exciting to see it come to fruition. The type of patient she was seeking to help often has untold physical and social issues post-op and so the very idea of forming a group and hold regular public meetings was tricky, if not slightly revolutionary! She pulled it off though, and it’s been so good to hear and see the folk who now belong to it sharing their stories, supporting one another, and growing braver socially as they find out they are not alone and have many people willing to help them return to as normal as life as possible.
This year politically has been full of unexpected and often stressful work: apart from the Brexit implications and machinations which rumble on, and whilst outside our general control in the main, do affect the Channel Islands in their relationship with the UK, France and the rest of the EU, 2018 also saw a major three day debate in Guernsey’s Assembly on Legalising Assisted Dying. Presented as a Requête – a form of Private Members’ Bill – and led by one of Jon’s colleagues and a close friend, Jon found himself leading the charge against liberalising the law protecting those needing end of life care. It was a tricky, narrow, bumpy path to navigate. Like many modern political issues it polarised Guernsey society, split friends and families, and divided the elected Assembly. International media attention focused on the island in the weeks leading up to the debate in May., primarily because if Guernsey were the first jurisdiction in the British Isles to liberalise on this issue it would have serious implications for other countries. We were not at all certain of winning. We were however very grateful for the support, encouragement and information which came from far and wide, people we did not know in many cases. We often found ourselves heavy with the burden of defending something (life) which modern society no longer understands, based on principles few embrace today. When the final votes were cast two thirds of the Assembly had been persuaded not to legalise Assisted Dying, Suicide or Euthanasia. This means the issue will not return for several years. But it will return. And attempts will be made elsewhere. This is sometimes what success feels and looks like.
The year MMXIII has come to pass, and as my great aunt used to say, the sooner it passes the better. In some ways at least. We’ll leave you to work out which parts of the above are plausible or not. Please don’t ask us. Sometimes we think we cannot be certain about reality any longer. Seriously though we do have much to be grateful for about 2018, even if it has also seen its sad, frustrating and sometimes rather nastier aspects. Politically we seem to live in a world in which fear-manipulation and appeals to self-centredness, hatred and offence seem to be de rigueur. Our prayers for 2019 certainly include a deep, serious plea that our cultures and peoples might once again find beauty in generosity, forgiveness, selflessness and love, that we might fight only for peace instead of conflict, whether on the visible global stage of nations and cultures or the less visible, but equally important arena of communities, neighbours and colleagues.
Buon Noué à tous – Guernesiais for Happy Christmas to you all – and our very best wishes for the New Year!
Jonathan & Judith
*look it up