I hope 2019 is going well for you.
As many of you will know second marriages are not always easy and Ella and I often struggle. But we are both Christians and both divorced for over 25 years. We moved in mid-June 2017 to the quiet village of Leafield, north of Witney, where we are settling in gradually.
I spent 4 days on retreat in July 2016 with Jean Vanier in Trosly-Breuil near Compiègne – ‘To Be A Peacemaker’, the retreat was entitled (his only one in English that year), with much reference to St.Francis, a warrior turned saint with plenty of biblical references to the Samaritan woman at the well, Ezekiel’s dream of the bones, Christ’s foot-washing and his love for Lazarus and family. Such a privilege to be in this man’s orbit. Excerpts from my diary at the time have appeared in two issues of the Being Alongside magazine and can be viewed on www.beingalongside.org.uk . Ella and I enjoyed a week’s retreat with Jean in July 2017 on The Gospel of John, once again in English, with some 36 fellow retraitantes from all over the world. John’s gospel is all about relationship and community and Jean explained things so well in his gentle way.
The great man suffered a heart attack towards the end of 2017 and has had subsequent health problems. He is currently recovering his strength in a Paris hospital. He has finally stopped giving retreats in French and English but continues to write and welcome people to his base in Trosly-Breuil. He is now 90 years old.
Launched to this site some time ago was the ‘Guest Letters’ category. So far we have a letter from the Daily Telegraph sent in by Sue Gordon and three more that failed to get published but which I found amusing. Send in stuff to me by email, be it your own compositions or someone else’s and ( so long as it’s kosher ) it will be posted on the site. Fame at last – your name in print !
Please check out the ‘Diaries’ category. Last posting there is my 2016 summer trip around France with my friend the Mercedes roadster which continued to be my pride and joy, particularly with its top down until sadly expiring with head gasket issues early in 2019. Quite an illuminating 6 days in Galilee and Jerusalem in 2013 is also there , followed by extracts from early 1980 which continue the ‘story’ from the end of my letter to Bernard Levin in the ‘ Letters to Journalists ‘ category. Up there too is my first Israel diary written in early 1992. The second Israel diary done at the end of 1995 is also posted – so that trilogy is now complete. Interesting things happen to me when I travel around the Holy Land so I do recommend you have a browse at those diaries.
Hitting the blog a while ago are ‘Thoughts and Feelings’. If it’s in blue I would like to claim its authorship otherwise it’s a well-known proverb or I have given credit where credit is due. One of my favourite quotes from Henri Nouwen appears at the top of the opening page of this ‘blog’.
A new category called ‘Articles’ is now up and running – the most recent contribution being a letter that was published in the Church Times. ‘ Do you hear voices ? ‘ is up there too, an article which I penned 23 years ago, but still pertinent (and impertinent in parts). A couple of letters sent at that time to Virginia Bottomley (remember her ?) are also featured in the Politicians category – that thread continues and is now completed.
In the meantime I have typed up some more letters written to the King of Jordan – I am hoping that finally the fourth of these will elicit a response as it was collected by a King’s Messenger. Fingers crossed. Update May 2018- nope, they do not seem to reach their target. Does anyone have any suggestions ? Astonishingly I learnt that a friend went out with young Abdullah when he was a student at Sandhurst but she has lost contact.
I neglected this blog a bit while I concentrated on the charity I chaired until May 2017, Being Alongside / The Association for Pastoral Care in Mental Health (BA /APCMH ) www.beingalongside.org.uk . We took a stand at the 400+ exhibitor CRE event (Christian Resources) at Excel in May 2016 – ours was the only one addressing mental health. We were there again the following year, so thank you if you visited us. A while ago I was interviewed by Asi Munisi on her Wandsworth Radio ‘Sunday Joy’ programme (google it and you can listen again on mixcloud.com) which should help promote the work of BA/APCMH and John Swinton of Aberdeen University interviewed me for his forthcoming book on Christians and mental illness.
With Mary Wright, another member, I have been working for BA/APCMH on a leaflet for churches aimed at encouraging them to do a little more for the mentally afflicted in their parishes and this should be distributed soon in ‘pdf’ and ‘hard copy’ formats. I say soon but it’s now well over two years since Mary and I started this work and still the leaflet remains ‘on the shelf’, which is not good. There has been no newsletter / magazine issued by Being Alongside for about a year now – this is not good either. I still try to chivvy along people involved but frankly to little avail.
At Jean Vanier’s request I have become involved with Faith & Light UK and have helped organize two meetings thus far of a fledgling Oxford group. Further meetings have been on hold recently while our national committee sort out insurance arrangements. This has now been done, so meetings will resume in the near future. This wonderful charity supports those with learning difficulties – 92% of whom experience loneliness apparently.
People often comment I am usually away on holiday ! At the end of April 2015 I spent an enjoyable if rainy long weekend in Galicia, around Santiago de Compostela and then in mid May I was in a smart hotel in Kathmandu albeit with no pool, no lift, no hot water but worst of all no bath-plug. The Nepalese need our help. Those Gurkhas have been the British Army’s finest fighters for decades – let us repay their loyalty to us. I have posted some words about this trip in the Articles section. Since then I have spent a week in Cyprus basing myself in Paphos but driving through the Troodos mountains via Mount Olympus to the extraordinary church of Our Lady of Asinou near Nicosia.
In early October that year I returned to Aqaba at the bottom of Jordan to ‘recharge the batteries’ at the ace Moevenpick Hotel. Before Christmas I went on a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia staying with an old university friend but venturing to nearby Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to Buddhist and Hindu temples in Java, Indonesia too. Then it was back to the Moevenpick Hotel in Aqaba for another ‘typing / writing’ holiday … yeah yeah yeah ! Mostly sunbathing as you can imagine ! And soon after that I had a marvellous week on the Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And later in 2016 I did a 12 day visit to Ethiopia, somewhat gruelling on the body and soul but fascinating and eye-opening. Ella and I have had further holidays in Crete and most recently in Sri Lanka and a bus tour of Normandy with people from Cogges church in Witney. We returned to France recently for an inspiring ‘Faith & Light’ retreat at L’Arche and then a long drive south to our great friends the Boulters at Ruffec.
Well, that writing holiday in Aqaba paid off (once Royal Jordanian Airlines found my bag with all my book research inside) – I started writing up my first book there and completed the task in the library of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney where I volunteer. It was provisionally entitled ‘The Least of Mine – Pastoral Care in Mental Health’. SPCK, who asked me to write this, have sadly lost interest. I have now enlisted the help of Ali Hull (ex Lion Hudson) in order to take matters forward. Book 1 is currently on the back-burner but I am now occupied with writing Book 2, a sort of autobiography, this time scribbling away in Jean Vanier’s library at L’Arche for 12 days to start the process and I hope to pretty much complete the book with a second 5 day stay at L’Arche towards the end of February 2019. Watch this space ! It’s now about three quarters complete.