Summer Leave – August 2015
I flew out in the early hours of Saturday morning, being collected from Heathrow by Alex, our eldest daughter, and her husband Dan to go down to near Salisbury for the wedding of my nephew Andrew to Charlie. As Andrew is in the Army Air Corps, a helicopter pilot, his colleagues were in uniform and his best man, Paul, a friend from the earliest of days, was in his police uniform. The reception took place in a school, where Charlie had taught, in the shade of Salisbury Cathedral, a wonderful setting with croquet and other games set up in the garden. It was a very happy occasion. On the Sunday morning after helping tidy up the reception venue we slipped in to the Cathedral at the end of the Eucharist and I was able to have a brief chat with the Dean, June Osborne, a contemporary in my Cambridge years. We went on to a relaxed bring-and-share family picnic and a game of frisbee.
Tricia and I flew out the next morning to Porto from Gatwick, closely followed, two days, later by Hannah and her boyfriend Tom and Philippa. We stayed in a self-catering home, through airbnb, owned by a delightful family who could not have made us more welcome. We used public transport, mostly the local bus into Porto, walked a good deal and one day rented bikes to cycle along the coast. There were lots of opportunities to eat meals, drink coffee and port and explore places. One day we visited one of the port cellars – Sandemans- and later, when we took a train and boat trip up the River Douro, we saw the vineyards from where the port grapes were picked. We took the train up to another ancient city- Gumaraes – in the hills, where we encountered another St Christopher’s (Cristovao). One surprise for us all was the cold temperature of the Atlantic in that part of Portugal – bracing; the British Club pool, cooled in the summer and warmed in the winter, which Tricia and I try and get to twice a week, has turned us into wimps!
JK Rowling apparently lived in Porto, teaching English, and there’s not much doubt as to where she got some inspiration for Hogwarts – the amazing Livraria Lello. We queued for 40 minutes in a rainstorm to get in and the ticket price was taken off the cost of any books bought.
From Portugal we flew to Nice in the south of France, via an overnight stop in Madrid, to fulfill a promise that we’d made to David and Yvette Knight, when they left Bahrain, to visit them in their home in Villefranche-sur-mer, a lovely ancient city to the east of Nice. Very sadly Yvette contracted pancreatic cancer and died about two months before, but it was good to spend time with David, to listen and talk; to pray at the spot where Yvette’s ashes had been scattered in the bay; to see the 12th century harbour, where she had successfully mobilized a residents’ action group to fight developers from concreting it over and building tower blocks of flats; to visit her parish church and the local Anglican Church in the adjacent town and meet the new chaplain, and to see many places of interest in the locality and swim in the, much warmer than Atlantic, Mediterranean. We ate lots of good meals, saw Monaco both from the sea and the land and bumped into one of the Kanoo family there whom David had worked with in Bahrain!
Back to the UK
Returning to England, we plunged into various practical things: doing jobs around the house, getting a new passport – an amazingly efficient 4 hour process at the Passport Office in London, getting eyes tested and new glasses ordered, and meeting my brother and sister to sort out some of my mother’s personal effects… Three of the highlights were celebrating Philippa’s birthday with several of her friends, visiting my aunt near Hastings, and preaching and presiding in my previous church St Matthew’s, Wigmore where we received such a warm reception. They are in their 50th year in the current church building. I took a powerpoint of Bahrain and showed it over coffee after the service. On my final day, a Bank Holiday when the heavens opened, Alex was able to join us for bowling in Lordswood and a Thai meal in Rochester.
I returned to Bahrain, delivered by Alex on her way to work, on Wednesday 1st September, knowing that, with Jon’s Ordination a few days away and Bishop Michael arriving the following day, I’d need to hit the ground running.
These are three books that I read over the summer: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria with the onset of the Biafran war. It is a beautifully written book, but on the subject of a hugely destructive war and its impact on the lives of individuals. At times it is almost unbearable to read as the various characters, whose lives are intertwined, are caught up in the mess, tragedy and destructiveness of war.
The second was The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce, a much gentler read, a confessional letter tha Queenie is writing as Harold Fry makes his pilgrimage on foot from Devon to Berwick-on-Tweed where Queenie is in a hospice. It’s a very moving account as she unburdens herself in her letter to Harold and finds a deep peace and renewed hope as she awaits his arrival and moves towards her death.
The final book H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald’s struggle with grief following her father’s death. She has, since a child, been fascinated by falconry and her purchase of a goshawk and the intense period of training with all its frustrations and triumphs is her way back to life. As Andrew Motion writes: it is an elegy for a father lost, celebration of a hawk found – and in the finding also a celebration of countryside, forebears of one kind and another, life-in-death.