Our Christmas News, 2018

Our last all-the-family photo: December 2017: Tom’s 40th birthday
Back row: Naomi, Alex, David, Esther with Aurelia, Martha; Middle row: Matilda, Lotte, Bethan, Owen, Elsie, Libby; Front row: Tom, Annie, Paul with Jerm, Alison, Tony

So, this is retirement?! It’s been a year of highs and lows, as two years into the retirement experience we’re still only just getting the measure of it.

The year began with a wonderful 3-week holiday in New Zealand. Alison had been wanting to go for years, but I was like: I don’t want to go! It’s so far away! It’s such a horrible journey! In the end, like every loving husband, I capitulated. When she reminded me that LOTR was filmed there and Galadriel might still be walking some of those woodlands… Our coach tour took us round a large part of both islands, and it really was spectacularly worth it. (Travelling both ways was outstandingly horrible, too.)

Spiritually getting back on our feet after the whammy of leaving the church and people we loved so much. Alison is taking more of a role in the parish church here in Thame, where she’s waving the banner for women’s ministry in an otherwise all-male clergy team, and also singing in the choir and music group. (The music in church is still disappointing after Marston, where we increasingly have come to see it was pretty darn great.) Tony takes a BCP 8 o’ clock once a month, and gets invited out to the villages often enough that we’re wanting to devise a policy of how often he should do that: after all, it would be nice to worship together. Like we did in the old days. He was a Spiritual Adviser on the Oxford Cursillo weekend in May, and has since been asked to take over as Diocesan Spiritual Director of Cursillo.

Health issues loom larger as they do for all of us of a certain age. The biggest scare though was about Tom, who just before Easter had a bleed in his head caused by an AVM. That’s an arteriovenous malformation; and no, we’d never heard of them before either, but you can look it up on the Web and learn far more than you want to know. He was in the high dependency neurology unit at King’s for ten days, but they apparently filled his artery with sealant and reckon that all is well. And he has no long-term effects, so God be praised.

Tony’s prostate condition graduated from needing active surveillance to “we think it’s advisable to do something about this”; so he is scheduled for surgery for radical prostatectomy on 24 December. (We were praying it would be before Christmas; so be careful what you pray for, folks.) Alison has been suffering quite a bit from the ribs she damaged, we think, when she had her fall at Melk Abbey two years ago. The medics are also trying to stabilise her blood pressure which is a bit erratic, with low sodium and Vitamin D levels. So, we would both value your prayers please.

The family are all doing well, and it’s a great joy to have such wonderful children (and their spouses) and eight lovely grandchildren: six girls and two boys. Libby, the oldest, is only 8, and Jeremy (AKA Jerm) is 1. So with all of them so close in age it’s a real joy on any occasions we manage to get together. Noisy, too. Thanks to Facebook, Lifecake, Facetime and such, we can follow their development almost from one day to the next. Technology has changed so much even in our own children’s lifetimes: it really makes you wonder what sort of new inventions the grandchildren will see during theirs.

In October we did something we haven’t done for years: joined a demo. It was, of course, the 700,000? strong People’s Vote protest against Brexit. It’s hard to deal with the rage, disappointment and despair we feel over the ineptitude of the politicians (on both sides) who got us into this mess. We believe, I suppose, that God is in charge, but I rather fear that means we’re coming under judgement at last for the greed, selfish materialism, and lack of concern for the poor that have been so characteristic of our nation. All the chickens of post-imperialism, insularity, failure to ever become a proper part of the European Project, are coming home to roost. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for a good while yet.

Nevertheless, it’s Christmas. So we remember that, though we despair of the world, God never does. That baby in the manger of Bethlehem is the sign that says: You are loved, Humanity, in spite of everything – loved so greatly that I come to share your life, and to give my life to you. Thank you, Jesus. We really don’t deserve it.

So, our love and Christmas greetings to you all. May 2019 bring better things, and hope for a brighter future.