July 2011

We bought a car. Not exactly our first purchase in Malaysia; it has been four years and then some since we arrived, and there have been other priorities. The Lord comes first in our lives, and Pam’s ministry has been an expensive undertaking. Our children come next, and although they are grown and we are no longer paying for their post-secondary education, they have other expenses: new cars to buy, first mortgages to negotiate. All of these things come before our own needs. In fact we probably would have been happy to do without a car altogether if Pam hadn’t been injured.

It was the kind of injury that comes with age; too many groceries in too large a backpack for someone of her frame. Put that together with broken sidewalks, flood-high curbs, maniacal traffic with no respect for pedestrians and taxi drivers that were recently referred to in the local paper as “thuggish” and we reluctantly came to the conclusion that we would have to put our environmental and financial considerations aside and get some form of transportation.

We needed something with an automatic transmission so Pam could drive, something that had no rust or obvious maintenance issues that would reflect poorly on the Lord, and something that would enable us to maintain proper stewardship of the resources the Lord has committed to our care. You see the result pictured above. It is a 1996 Proton Satria. It has had four previous owners, the last being an expatriate Irishman, the boyfriend of one of the staff at the College where I teach. He seems like a reliable chap, and he has maintained the vehicle in an acceptable manner. It has a Mitsubishi 1.5 litre engine, three doors and probably a shelf life of another five years.

We are not planning any road trips any time soon. This car will get us to church and pick up a few groceries. It might also get us dancing or going for dinner again, as we have had to give that up coming here due to the uncertainty of being able to get a cab once you have gone out for the evening. We have thought about this very carefully for the last couple of years, but this does seem to be what the Lord would have us do, and we hope that it proves to be a blessing. Perhaps it might keep my darling wife a little safer on these dangerous streets than hauling groceries down treacherous sidewalks.

This is the first of two gigs as Ring Bearer and Flower Girl for Ben and Abi this summer. Not only did they look great but they led the processional and did their job very well. Ben was a little annoyed that he didn’t get to actually carry the rings but was happy to be a part of their friend Acasia’s wedding party.

Happy Birthday, Jon. The older you get the more your birthday’s seem to get lost in all the excitment of life.

A 60th Wedding Anniversary is an amazing event at any time.

It was a real joy and privilege to be able to join with family to celebrate this milestone with Uncle Stewart and Aunt Lil, my mom’s younger sister. Together they raised their four children, had the privilege of being involved in the lives of their sixteen grand children and now nine great grandchildren.

I know that their marriage did not survive because it was an easy road but rather because they made a committment to each other which they held dear and were prepared to work hard to preserve. How wonderful it is to see them at this point in their lives still enjoying each others company and having fun with their family.

This is their grand daughter Sara, modelling the dress that Lil wore, purchased  in 1951 at Garber’s for the exorbitant price of $34.00.

One thing that comes out of juggling two careers, three children and thirty years worth of volunteer church activity is the ability to do some advance strategic planning. We put a considerable amount of thought into the details of our England visit and it paid off at every turn. As I was arriving from Canada twelve hours earlier than Steve arrived from Malaysia, I had the time to take the train across town from Gatwick to Stansted, picking up a decent road atlas on the way. That map turned out to be a livesaver on many occasions as we wound our way from Cambridge to Newcastle, and then south again to Kent. Given that we would once again be going our separate ways at the end of this vacation, we booked the last three days for ourselves in London.

After doing some research and some Google map study, we booked a hotel in Croydon, a non-descript little suburb with excellent train connections to Victoria which runs about every four minutes and gets you into the city in about fifteen minutes. We had two full days to wander around London, taking in the sights and sounds. Steve was burning to see the paintings in the National Gallery located in Trafalgar Square, but we took our time wandering from Victoria Station, past Buckingham Palace and down along St. James’ Park to Westminister Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Then we strolled down the embankment and stopped for tea at an upscale hotel called the Carpathia just to bathe in the ambience of the lobby. Then we crossed Trafalgar Square and spent a very enjoyable four hours soaking in the glorious art of the last four hundred years.

London is quite an amazing city with endless beautiful old buildings each with great historical significance. Every little street or alleyway has something new to explore and new and old sculptures abound. We caught a double decker to Hyde Park but must confess that we were both a little disappointed by the state of the park. Apparently the motif-de-jour in parks these days is ‘environmentally-appropriate,’ which seems to mean just let the weeds and algae take over. What was very nice was the new memorial fountain to Princess Diana, which not only blends nicely into the environment, but is aesthetically pleasing as well. We left the park by crossing into Kensington, ending up where we started back at Victoria Station. A brief and speedy train ride got us back to the hotel.

The next day we headed to the Tower of London and worked our way back from the East End, with St. Paul’s as our destination, taking our time to explore the endless little cul-de-sacs that lace the old city. We stopped for lunch at the site of London’s oldest pub, half-hidden down a narrow side street before hiking on. St Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1710 and is the first cathedral built in England after the Protestant Reformation. It has been the site of many celebrations like Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, Charles and Diana’s wedding and Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday. It is a magnificant structure and we were fortunate to be there in time to to enjoy the sound of an orchestra and choir rehearsing for an evening performance. From the Whispering Gallery high above the cathedral floor the sound was angelic.

After St Paul’s we took another double-decker to the market area. Covent Garden Market and the old Leadenhall Market are bustling with wonderful shops, stalls and restaurants. Again our timing was good as we arrived to watch a Chaplin clone mime his way through a hilarious routine that included some young participants clearly learning the tricks of the street performance art. Another bus ride took us all the way to Victoria where we sat and lingered over the coffee and crowds before heading back to Croyden
I took the train to Gatwick the following morning, while Steve drove the car back to Stansted for his evening flight. It was an odd holiday in a way, arriving as we did from separate countries only to go our separate ways again at the end, but it seemed to work for us, and with our schedules it was the only way we could see our way through to spending some time together. At any rate, and we ended up having a wonderful time in England, seeing the sights and visiting with family, some of whom I hadn’t ever seen. They were were also wonderful and I hope I won’t have to wait another sixteen years before my next visit!

Pam has extensive family in Canada: six brothers, five with children; lots of cousins, all with children; and more aunts, uncles and in-laws than I can keep track of. My family is mostly in England, and I don’t get to see them that often. But Pam and I have made an effort this trip to see as many of my British relatives as possible.

We started with Mom, of course, and got in a number of visits while we were in Lincoln. Then we scooted up to Newcastle to see my niece Claire and her family. Claire and Phil have two children. Phil works for a pharmaceutical company on the leading edge of developing molecular structures that can be made into medication to treat cancer. Claire has set aside work – she has Ph.D. in biochemistry as well as her husband – to bear and raise their two children, although now that Joe is about to enter nursery school she is considering a return to the working world, at least on a part-time basis.

Megan is five and Joe is three, and they are quite delightful. For Pam it was the first time she had seen Claire’s family, and she was quite taken with them. The family took us for a hike up to see a portion of Hadrian’s Wall, a defence fortification built in the second century A.D. to keep the barbaric Celts of Scotland out of Roman England. Parts of the wall remain; along with the watchtowers, barracks and baths that the Romans built for their soldiers. Megan and Joe marched up the hills and over the fortifications like little troopers, Joe only needing a carry down a particularly slippery stretch on the way down. We stopped for lunch at a nice little hotel overlooking the river where the children patiently listened to their (great!)-uncle try to teach them the intricacies of outdoor chess. Just for the record and future bragging rights, Megan won with a king and castle checkmate.

Next on the grand tour was my sister and my nephew Colin, who with his wife Verity and their two children, Jack and Willow, all live in the wilds of North Lincolnshire. Colin is a farmer like his father Roger, and has what is for England a fairly large farm on which he grows wheat and oil-seed rape (canola). He is a clever and well-educated young man with an extensive knowledge not only of the crops and animals he manages, but of all the government regulations and subsidies that need to be managed in order to be successful in today’s stress-filled agricultural sector. He took us on a tour of the farmstead, showing us the new storage facility that he is having built and the crops, including an experimental section of elephant grass (miscanthus) that is being grown in England as a biomass fuel.

His wife Verity is a lovely warm-spirited woman with a Master’s degree in animal husbandry and an enviable reputation for her knowledge of horses which she uses in horse rescue operations for a charitable organization. Her most recent project was the rescue of twenty Shetland ponies from animal abuse on a Lincolnshire farm. Their two children are friendly and adventurous; Jack was pretty shy at first but by the time he took us on a tour of the farm, he was happily strutting his stuff. Willow is just a happy and beautiful little doll. Their grandmother, my sister, quite dotes on the two of them, and her house is filled with a riot of motorbikes, front-end loaders and train sets. We are so happy to see these two new families doing so well in very different environments and areas of pursuit. They are a real tribute to Rosey and Roger’s commitment to parenting and I am sure it makes them both very proud.

After two days in Colchester, staying at a lovely B&B down near the coast, we headed out past the dreaded M25 and into the south to see my cousin Rosalind, who lives and works in Kent as assistant head of English at a girl’s boarding school. It had been forty years since I last saw my cousin and I had quite lost touch until she found me through Facebook. She lives in just a charming little town in the English countryside, surrounded by stately homes, lovely gardens and quaint little British pubs. Her school, pictured here is like something out of a Jane Austin novel, a handsome structure set in an idyllic landscape. Yesterday we took a drive past her school on our way to Sissinghurst, a medieval castle that is the site of one of England’s most iconic gardens. Towering plants grew in glorious profusion beside ancient brick walls surrounded by neat little rows of hedges trimmed to geometric precision.

Ros was wonderful to stay with, very relaxed and welcoming with her two little kitties and bookcases full to overflowing with literature that I was dying to read. But there was far too much to do: little pubs to visit and a friendly little high street to explore. This morning we went with Ros to church and were warmly greeted and encouraged in our faith. It has been such a treat to share our Christian belief with a cousin who understands the call of Christ upon her life. We missed visiting with her son Tom, who is in Oxford, but that simply gives us a reason to come back at another time to this lovely part of the world.

It has truly a privilege to have the opportunity to visit with my family in England. It has been brief and packed; not an easy visit to plan and co-ordinate with the limited time we had. But the Lord has been in all of the details, my family have been most accommodating and understanding,and it has been a blessing from beginning to end.

There were four children born to Muriel and Wyndham Wise following World War Two; three of us survived, but the youngest, Henrietta, died the day after she was born, on May 31, 1951. She was buried in our parish church, St. Michael’s, not far from the hospital where she was born in Colchester, a rural town not far from London, England. Today I visited her gravesite, placed some flowers in her memory, and prayed for her dear little soul.

I am certain with all my heart that she is with her Saviour in heaven. David said of the child that he fathered through Bathsheba, and that died shortly thereafter, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:21). Henrietta is not coming back in this life, but she is waiting for me in the next, and one day I will join her, and my dear father, who committed his way to Christ before he died. Such assurances are a blessed treasure for those who know Christ as their Saviour.

Finding little Henrietta’s gravesite was the reason for coming to Colchester where I was born. Colchester is England’s oldest town, and its original capital. King Cole of the nursery rhyme is reputed to have ruled here, and Boadicea, Queen of the Brits, rode out of Colchester to defeat the Romans on her war chariots when they first arrived, circa 50 B.C. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born nearby, and saved at the Methodist Chapel on New Park Street in Colchester, from which he derived the name of his famous church in London.

There is plenty of history to see, in other words. But it was personal history I was interested in. After placing some flowers on Henrietta’s grave and making arrangements to have her little broken headstone replaced, I went to Turner Road, where I was born and raised, and took a walk on the public footpath to the woodland behind our house, which looked pretty much as I remembered it. These memories are understandably vague and faint now, but nevertheless it was sadly sweet to visit these places again and touch the past, if only briefly. I thank the parents who gave me such a pleasant start to my life, and nurtured my love for nature thorough the woods and the lanes that surround the place of my birth.

The Yorkshire Dales are justly famous for their pleasant country drives and their gorgeous scenic views. We left the Newcastle area, where we had visited my niece and her lovely family and drove south, intent on hitting the Dales by noon. But we have always held that the journey is what makes the destination worth going to, and we were ready to discover whatever we could find on the way. We didn’t have to wait long, as very early in our journey we came across an antique car show in the little village we were driving through. We followed the MGs and Austin Healeys to a nearby park where things were just getting underway.

We saw very few ‘foreign’ cars: a Model T, circa 1905 and a few corvettes, looking Disneyesque and ridiculously over-styled beside their sleeker and leaner British cousins. A full range of MGs were there, a car that Pam and I are partial to, since an MGB was the first car we jointly owned back in the days when we were still courting. There was the odd Rolls Royce and a few Jaguars, lots of Minis and an old Vauxhall looking fabulous despite its age and the fact that it had never been reconditioned. There was even a steam powered tractor that chugged into the parking lot and briefly stole the show.

But the Dales were calling us, and we pushed on past ancient mills on streams that cut a path through the glens and fields, past curious cattle and sheep that dotted the hillside between the stone walls, down circuitous little lanes through villages like Swinithwaite and Aysgarth. We stopped for tea in Richmond, only to discover a charming little market square where a skirl of bagpipes serenaded the Sunday shoppers while others explored the nearby castle. We settled for a taster’s sip of local ginger wine, and thought it quite the nicest dessert liquor we had ever tasted.

Finally after a few close calls with oncoming traffic in roads really only wide enough for one vehicle, and a few wrong turns that led to sheep pens and not much else, we arrived at our destination: the little village of Kettlewell. Pam, in her usual thorough investigation of accommodation while we are travelling, found Pennycroft, a little B&B which we have entirely to ourselves, including a view of the main intersection of this tiny village, and a delightful English country garden out back. To bring an end to a wonderful day, we enjoyed the Sunday roast beef dinner, with roast and boiled potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, garden peas, squash and gravy, and most appropriately Yorkshire pudding, as light and fluffy as the lovely croissants we had for breakfast.

We hope you had a lovely day where you are, and sorry that you can’t be here. But if you ever get the chance to come to England, you simply must get to the Yorkshire Dales. We could recommend a nice B&B, and have a pub in mind that serves the nicest Sunday meals. But be forewarned, places like this can make you think about settling down in the middle of England when you retire!