There are a few things that can get one worked up. Some of these one perhaps may share with a partner or loved one after three or so decades of living together. You get used to one another after that length of time, understand one another to the degree where you can predict one another’s reactions to events, share the same outlook on things, have grown accustomed to one another’s foibles, microbes etc. And generally you have learnt to empathise with those things – little things in the main – which get one another worked up. Sometimes disproportionately. “Reaching out” for example, a phrase which has featured regularly on the American political TV dramas, like The West Wing, House of Cards, Designated Survivor, etc. that Judith and I have enjoyed over years, and now which increasingly seems to pop up in British dramas. What is that about? Judith used to cringe physically when it first happened, “That’s what you do with your hands” she’d insist as Jed asked Josh to “reach out to the GOP”. Another one is to “deplane” as in, the flight having landed, taxiing up to the terminal and the pilot announces “you will shortly be able to deplane…” I was not aware than I had already previously “planed”. But maybe I’ve skipped that one. Maybe one can now “plane from London to DC” without having to “take the” at all. I may actually be able to train from London to Paris, to car to town, to boat to France. I’m not (taking the) mick.
But my latest gripe is people who start their sentences – especially in response to a question – with “So…”
It’s just downright condescending.
It’s the most [fill in blank] time of the year…
“Wonderful” of course, according to the song. But how would you fill in the blank just now? Panicky? Pleasurable? Silly? Stressful? Family? Commercial? Busy? Enjoyable?Lonely? Dangerous? Now try singing that line with your own adjective or nominal in the blank. It’s worthwhile having a moment to reflect that not everyone will be feeling the same as you in this season, and that cuts both ways.
As occasionally happens with this yuletide missive (now entering its fourth decade!) we skipped a year in 2016. It flew by us before we knew it. In fact we had a relatively quiet, reflective Christmas, having had a fairly full-on 12 months last year. In synopsis we began 2016 with Judith’s Dad (Peter) seriously ill; in GG2015 we mentioned that we were spending that Christmas in the UK with Judith’s family at a lovely farmhouse in Sussex. Judith’s Dad was in Epsom hospital in the run up to that Christmas, but we managed to extract him – using quasi military logistics – on Christmas Eve in order for him to spend a few days over Christmas with his family. Being a nurse, Judith managed to convince everyone that he would be cared for appropriately, however this did involve a picturesque drive around minor Sussex towns on Christmas Day in search of an open pharmacy in order to purchase surgical supplies not readily available elsewhere!
The first part of 2016 was sadly overshadowed by Peter’s diminishing health. It was all hands on deck with Judith and her siblings helping to care for him at home for a period, alongside community nurses. Not an easy task, especially as his house was not in the best of conditions! Judith went back and forth for a while, eventually staying for several weeks. Lucy joined her to help at one point. Judith’s brother and sister-in-law, Graham and Luise, who live in Hong Kong, who had been over for initially for the Christmas break, ended up returning just a few weeks later to help with care and staying for several months! They spent so much unplanned time in the UK that they dropped into Guernsey for a break on more than one occasion!
Peter sadly died on 1 April 2016 and the rest of the year was often spent reflecting on his life, with happy, sad, funny, mixed emotions… often brought to mind through Judith and her brothers needing to physically go through the small cosmos of “stuff” (often in triplicate, like any good civil servant) which he had kept in cupboards, boxes, and piles upon piles in his otherwise unredecorated-since-1970 home, which we all knew fondly as “Chadacre”. It was a labour of love, as in between the painstakingly and meticulously kept but otherwise pointless copies of utility bills dating back five decades, there might be a unique photograph or important letter. His funeral brought together folk, some of whom had not seen each other for many years, and was a grand and fitting tribute to a complex man, who loved his family very dearly, even if he was not the best at expressing it. We all miss him.
All this was happening at a unusually busy time politically and personally for us. The Guernsey general election was set for the end of April 2016, and Jon was completing his time as Chief Minister with a raft of legislation to get through before the purdah and the end of that term, the usual unplanned crises here and there to resolve, not to mention an election campaign to fight!
Having already decided that Jon would stand down in terms of leading the government, if re-elected in our constituency, we decided he would aim for the newly created lead role in external relations – Minister for External Affairs – effectively Guernsey’s Foreign Secretary. During his time as CM Jon had, like his predecessors effectively undertaken both roles of leading the government domestically as well as representing Guernsey externally. As of May 2016 this has been split and having been reelected by his constituency district of the Castel, he was then chosen to become Guernsey’s first equivalent of Boris Johnson. Without the hair, but with some style. It is a fascinating role, involving a significant amount of travel (especially post the Brexit vote by the UK – yes, thanks for that Brit friends 😉 – which puts the Channel Islands into interesting and complex positions!) but it is also thankfully much less busy than when he was CM.
This also relates to developments that occurred in relation to our involvement with Church on the Rock. For the previous few years we had been seeking to pass on more and more of our leadership roles to others, to the degree that we brought in Paul Chesworth to lead the staff team in 2012 and to help raise up a new generation of leaders. Both of us were still involved in the team, but much less day-to-day and Jon had become part of the New Ground Churches Core Team – a part of the Newfrontiers global family, led by Dave Holden; we were now being invited to get more involved in ministry outside of Guernsey, in the UK and Europe, France in particular.
Whilst our family responsibilities had been rapidly changing in recent recent years, this could not happen unless responsibilities and work loads both politically and in the local church changed also. So, during 2016 the church transition occurred: Paul handed the team leadership over Nathan Miller (who had been Youth Pastor previously) and moved back to the UK; Jon stepped down from the local leadership after 27 years! It all happened rather smoothly considering all that was going on at the same time. Of course we are still very much part of this wonderful church family whom we love, Judith still disciples some young leaders and Jon still preaches once a month, but the rest of the time we are focusing generally on helping develop churches and leaders elsewhere. Away roughly one in two weekends and engaged primarily in the francophone world, Jon now also leads the New Ground French national team.
In comparison these last 12 months have been increasingly much fun for us for a number of reasons.
Lucy and Luke had been house hunting for a while, and happily in April found a fabulous brand new two-storey apartment, with an additional third level mezzanine, in St Peter Port, walking distance to their work and Guernsey’s main shopping centre. It is a practical modern development which has been tastefully designed to blend in with the older surroundings of the northern part of the harbour, and overlooks one of our main marinas with views towards the smaller islands of Herm, Jethou and Sark. Idyllic. It’s also just a two minute trot from Grace and Ollie’s victorian flat round the corner. Also this year Luke celebrated his 30th Birthday!
In other related news, Judith and I are proud to announce that we are to start shopping at Mothercare again. Well, perhaps that should be Grandmothercare, but that sounds like something completely different!
Grace and Ollie announced that they are expecting a baby (due next April) and to say we were absolutely delighted would be… absolutely true! Grace qualified as an accountant earlier this year too, so presumably she and Ollie have worked out that having children is a high price very much worth paying.
Talking of exams, and babies, our very own baby Emily graduated this summer with an Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Visual Communications from Arts University Bournemouth.
We were very happily there to see her receive her award and to sign the last cheque! Ems has decided since to stay on in Bournemouth for the time being where she has taken up the opportunity for an internship with the church she has loved being part of during the latter part of her undergraduate study – St Swithun’s – she’s part of a great team there, enjoying the training, and working a few hours a week at Cath Kidston too, to bring in some extra pennies.
Earlier this year Judith was able, through the generous bequest from her Dad, to purchase her dream car – a Fiat 500 cabriolet (dark grey with red trimmings – for those of you who care about that kind of detail!) Jon is only allowed to drive it if he asks nicely. If it had been bright pink (which was an option) Judith would not have needed to worry about Jon asking. The grey is more restrained, and what is more, it fits nicely into those handy ‘small car spaces’.
Also, thanks to Judith’s Dad’s generosity we have become proud owners of a property in France! Something we’ve only ever dreamt of up until now! One could in fact describe our 17C mews house in Pons, (near Cognac!) in the Charente-Maritime as “un petit tas” [a small pile] as it is currently a tad ramshackle with a pile or tow of incomplete reovation work to do here and there!
This is, come to think of it, perhaps a fitting tribute to Peter Berry! We are truly excited by the prospects of spending a little more time in France in the future and part of that will be this little project for which we signed contracts in November, having only “gone to look at a few properties to see what the market is like” in the summer! Pons is a beautiful little medieval town, on the river Seugne and rising to the 12C donjon set on a rock, towering above the surrounding vineyards, not far from Cognac. We have loved visiting it on family holidays and have frequented the area since the children were quite young. The town is also on the ancient Santiago de Compostela route and was a famous stopping off point for pilgrims. You may also note from the photo that our little pile just happens to be right next door to an artisan patisserie and boulanger! Handy, n’est-ce pas? Here are some views of the town of Pons to put you in the picture…
Apart from France, comme d’habitute, we have also holidayed in Fuerteventura in February and Crete in October. Both were perfect breaks in our busy schedule. Jon’s travels have taken him (and sometimes Judith) to London (more times than he’d like to count), Brussels, Paris, Washington DC, Munich, Lyon, Nimes, Caen, Rennes, Cambrai, Jersey even. He worked out that in the first six months of this year he’d spent 55 days living out of a suitcase somewhere. (It is true that possibly some of that was in our bedroom in Guernsey). But he’s loving this new season in life. Judith continues to nurse part time and to love that too, with new challenges and developments ahead. And one of the really wonderful developments this year is that her neck and shoulder pain has begun to significantly diminish, so she is not having to take the regular pain killers which she had been on for well over a decade!
To wrap up this missive, here’s a few random photos marking some of the fun times we had since we’ve last updated this blog… [You can pause the slide-show if you wish, or just skip it altogether if you’re a grumpy, boring old so-and-so]
This Christmas – about to come upon us – we are hosting Judith’s mum, Miriam, and her sister Aunty Carol; we’ll also be joined by Judith’s youngest brother Ian and his partner Adam. During Christmas and Boxing Days we’ll have Luke and Lucy, Ollie and Grace dropping in and out, as they also spend time with in-laws. For the first time Ems will not be “Home for Christmas” as she will be busy working with St Swithun’s in Bournemouth.
In many ways this world today is far less predictable nor as secure as it once seemed. Perhaps that security was only an illusion. But, as we started, in contemplative mood, let’s end with some Christmas lyrics. This time by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
A Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to all of you!
Jonathan & Judith
P.S. Almost forgot, the most significant detail, I’ve grown a beard (did you notice?)