Now that it’s 2012, and I have a little spare time before I go back to work, I thought this would be a suitable opportunity to reflect on the past year and summarise what I’ve been up to.
Ellie gave us a bit of a scare earlier this year. What started off as just a niggling pain in the chest turned out to be gall stones, which was at times crippling and meant she had to avoid anything even remotely fatty for several months. She found that change of diet difficult, what with not being able to eat cheese or chocolate. Still, the operation went very smoothly and she was back on her feet and eating naughty things soon afterwards. My biggest confession here is that I’m still ever so slightly jealous at how quickly she healed after her operation, compared to me and my hernia (which is mostly fine now, incidentally).
Peter leaving home
This year my littlest brother flew the nest, finding a lovely little church in Uffeculme to go and be a trainee youth worker at. I went to his induction service, which was a great way to support him as he began his new ministry, and an opportunity to meet (albeit in passing) others like him and also the vicar he’s working with, who seems very nice. Unfortunately, despite booking a date in with him, we didn’t get to actually visit Peter on-site this year (more on that later), so hopefully we’ll reschedule that for early 2012. It does leave Mum and Dad’s house somewhat empty though; apparently their food bill has roughly halved now that Peter’s moved out…
Apart from a weekend in Weymouth, we as a family have never had a holiday until this year. Ellie and I have been married for 4 years, and that was all we had managed. This year we took advantage of Ellie’s Dad’s holiday home in France, and had a lovely week with them. We had a fantastic day on the beach, generally enjoyed chilling and not doing too much, and although it was short it was much appreciated. The travel was an adventure – driving on the wrong side of the road isn’t actually too hard at all, although the weather on our return journey made the ferry crossing quite uncomfortable (not that Samuel seemed at all bothered by that).
Samuel’s visit to hospital
Not to be left out, Samuel also necessitated a trip to the hospital, following a very high temperature that caused him to have a brief seizure. That was a huge worry for us at the time, but thankfully it wasn’t anything to worry about in the end. Apparently these things happen with young children, because their bodies aren’t able to deal with the heat as well. No lasting damage, I’m pleased to say.
Ellie’s Grandma sadly passed away this year. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, as she was very old and increasingly unwell, but it was still something unpleasant we all had to go through. She had been growing increasingly senile, making conversation difficult, and although we’d managed to persuade her to move out of her bungalow and into a flat where she’d have people to help, she actually only lived there for a matter of weeks due to prolonged visits to various hospitals. It was one thing after another, what with falls, blood pressure, infections, and so on. In the end she had a fall while in hospital that led to a bleed on the brain which, in addition to everything else she was going through, was just too much. Thankfully we happened to be visiting Ellie’s Mum at the time, so we were on hand to support her through it. A useful bit of planning on God’s part, methinks.
Tow bar fitted to the Zafira
We have a trailer tent sitting in the garage. We were given it by Ellie’s Dad, but we have yet to actually take it anywhere. We drove it back from Gloucester, attached to our Ford Escort, but since then it’s just sat there. So to ensure that we would be able to take it out when the opportunity finally presented itself, we got a tow bar fitted to our Zafira with 2 power points just in case. It may not usually be recommended, but I reckon with judicious driving and selection of gears it should be easily possible to tow a trailer tent with a 1.6 litre engine!
Ellie’s driving test
I’m very pleased to report that Ellie is now on the road, having passed her test in November. It was only her second attempt, and she had to take the test in our car because her instructor had double-booked himself, and it was in Dorchester rather than where she had been learning, so all things considered I think that’s pretty good going! It’s already proved to be very useful, with Ellie frequently dropping me off at work and having the car during the day so she can do shopping, take Samuel into town, etc. And of course long journeys can now be shared out between us, which was very much appreciated at Christmas time!
Zafira written off
Unfortunately, exactly a month after passing her test, Ellie had a bit of an accident. Nothing major, which was a relief, especially given the sort of accidents new drivers tend to have, but sadly it was enough to make the Zafira a complete loss. It was just a collision with a parked car, but it took out the steering rack. Our insurance company was very good though, and helped us through the process very well.
Our new Focus Estate
So having lost the Zafira, we went looking for a new car. We hired a little Corsa for a weekend (which was surprisingly affordable, courtesy of Enterprise) and went touring the local area for potential cars. I was originally aiming for a Ford Focus hatchback, which would be a lot smaller than the Zafira but about the same as our Escort, so should be manageable. Not ideal, but it would do. The first Focus we saw turned out not even to have a valid MOT, so I refused to take it out for a test drive. It would have needed a lot of work doing on it anyway. The second, while in much better condition, still didn’t feel right. In the end though we found a Focus Estate that was just right, and it’s really proved its worth over Christmas. It’s got a slightly bigger engine at 1.8 litres, making it a bit more powerful, and the gearing is taller too making it much more comfortable on the motorway. And it came with a tow bar, so we’ll still be able to take the trailer tent out when that opportunity comes round…
Creating the Facebook page
For those who don’t know, I’m on the PCC at church. That’s basically the committee that makes the decisions regarding the running of the church, working on behalf of the whole congregation and beyond. Those who know me will know that I’m not a sit-quietly-and-wait-for-someone-else-to-do-it person. I saw a need for us to be on Facebook, so I proposed it, explained a few times what Facebook was, and was finally given the go-ahead to set it up. It’s now live, and although it’s not a hive of activity, at least it’s there and being used, which is a step in the right direction!
Designing a new church logo
I’m also on the Outreach Focus Group, which is like a sub-committee of the PCC in charge of outreach. While I was thinking about outreach and how we communicate with the outside world I got to thinking about creating a logo for the church to use. So I created a potential design, got very positive feedback, presented it to the PCC, got even more positive feedback, and was then told to put it on hold until the new vicar arrived. Which was frustrating. I can see where they’re coming from though, and hopefully this year we’ll be able to move forward on it.
Our new vicar
When we first moved to this area and started going to St Peter & St Paul’s there were 2 full-time clergy and a curate, plus a whole load of retired clergy itching to get involved. Now, I’m sure it’s nothing to do with us, but not long after that we lost Dave to another church, and a bit later Liz took early retirement, leaving just the curate, who should have been busy training really and not running a church. Despite being promised lots of support from the diocese, and the promise of being fast-tracked through the process, we still had to wait a good 18 months before David started. It was a tough time for the church, and a lot of people had to work a lot harder to fill in the gaps and keep things running, but clearly God was saving us for just the right person. I’m pleased to say that I like David a lot, and I think he’s just what our church needs. He has already made a big impact, already challenged people’s expectations, already begun giving us focus and direction. And we’ve already ensured he’s got the right impression of us – since he’s arrived we’ve had 5 fancy dress outings, the first of which was on his first Sunday and I dressed up as Cruella Deville…
Youth Praise talk
I was asked to do the talk at the December Youth Praise service. I’ve done them before, but this turned out to be the talk that made me most nervous. There were a number of factors at play: it was the first sermon our new vicar would hear me preach, and my parents were visiting that weekend so they’d be there too. Oh, and I ripped a page out of my Bible. Now, before you write me off as a heretic, I ought to explain the context (and back myself up by stating that I’d checked with the vicar that he was okay with it). The running theme of the talk was that of “one continuous story”, bringing in the fact that although Jesus was born of Mary he actually existed long before then, and was present at creation. And although the words stop being printed at the end of the book of Revelation the story itself continues and includes all of us today. So to make the point, and to reinforce the idea that the Old Testament and the New Testament are not two separate stories, I ripped out the divider page between Malachi and Matthew, making it literally one continuous story. Now, obviously I don’t condone people ripping pages out of Bibles as a general rule, but it got the point across, and I had some very positive feedback afterwards, which was encouraging. There was more to the talk than just that, but that was the bit that required the most thought and prayer!!
To raise money for Children in Need this year our Youth Praise service at church decided to come in pyjamas. I have to admit I’ve never worn pyjamas in church before. It would have been cold had it not been for the addition of a dressing gown and slippers.
No pictures I’m afraid.
We don’t tend to actively encourage Halloween in church circles. I personally find it a tough concept, mainly because the whole event trivialises something that is very real and dangerous, which can be a very risky thing to do. But nor do we like to appear to be sticks in the mud, so we arranged for a Halloween-alternative party for our young people to come to, and it had been decided it would be fancy dress. After much work (mainly by Ellie), I turned up to the party as Cruella Deville from 101 Dalmations, accompanied by Ellie as a dalmation, and I was decidedly the most scary person at the party. I wore a long black dress, black bra (with socks for padding), tights, knee-high boots, a black and white wig, black gloves, plus makeup and accessories. And, I have to confess, it was surprisingly good fun!
A little more conventional this time; Ellie and I appeared as a maid and a butler (respectively) at the church youth group’s Christmas meal. We waited on them the whole evening, staying in character the whole time, which I think unnerved a couple of people! It was tiring work, especially on the feet…
Root of Jesse
At the December Youth Praise service we were encouraged to come in fancy dress again, this time as something from the Old Testament. I was doing the talk, so I didn’t want to be wearing anything too distracting, so I just brought a carrot. It’s a root vegetable. Root of Jesse. Geddit?
No picture available for this costume I’m afraid.
I’ve been Wolverine before, at Anne-Marie’s birthday party a few years ago, but I brought it back out again this year (something I prefer not to do, I don’t like to repeat myself) for a special occasion. The work Christmas party this year was themed as “A Night at the Oscars”, and we were all encouraged to come as a film character or actor. A lot of people opted for the easy option, which was to come in a fancy ball gown as if they were walking down the red carpet, but thankfully there were also plenty in fancy dress. I was Wolverine from X-Men, in a tux. My claws were made from cardboard, coloured with a silver pen, held in place by untwisted paperclips taped to the back of my hand and hidden by fingerless gloves. It worked very well, and I got a few comments from people at the party. The muttonchops also went down a treat. The most surprising comment though wasn’t about any of that – “is that your real hair?” Yes, it was my own hair, just gelled. I’m still not sure whether to take it as a compliment or not.
A photo does exist, but it’s not mine and it’s on Facebook.
Another Christmas party, this time for the younger children of the church. In absence of Father Christmas himself, I manned the grotto as an elf, wearing bright red trousers, green t-shirt, red waistcoat, green hat, and proper elf ears. And yes, I was in character too, making sure I was smiling and jolly the whole time, which was incredibly hard work. I gave presents to all the children, did a little dance (for which I still need to exact my revenge on Wendi…), and afterwards tried to convince the kids that it wasn’t me and that it must have been a real elf. I don’t think they believed me.
Again, no pictures that I’m aware of.
This was my second-favourite costume this year, for our New Year’s party. It was a group of friends from church, all of us with children, so we started at 5pm, had some dinner, played some games, and then bundled all the kids upstairs and told them to go to sleep while the rest of us stayed up. That plan sort of worked, eventually. Anyway, it was fancy dress but with no particular theme, so we decided to go as characters from Alice in Wonderland, which is a theme we’ve somehow not covered before. Ellie went as the Mad Hatter, I went as the White Rabbit, and Samuel was the Dormouse. Ellie made the most enormous hat, and Samuel looked very cute with his mouse ears and teapot. My triumph was the teeth I made from a plastic pot cut to shape, which simply slotted between my gums and upper lip and, with a little effort, still allowed me to speak! Obviously I still had to take them out to eat and drink, but it was good fun nonetheless.
Rediscovering the cello
Earlier this year I had a free evening, and Ellie was out, so I decided to dig my cello out. It had been buried in the corner of our hall since we’d moved in, and hadn’t been played in years. I hadn’t even checked that it had survived the house move. So it was with some apprehension that I opened the case, but found to my surprise and delight that not only was it all still in one piece and in working order but that it was still perfectly in tune! Not only that but I could still remember how to play the thing. Admittedly not to the same level as when I was on top form, back in my final year at school, but I was still able to play The Swan without any difficulty, which is somewhere in the grade 6-7 range I think.
Unfortunately this year has seen little in the way of progress on my album. I did some more editing, and regrettably decided that one of the tracks that had been causing me difficulty was actually too fast and needed to be re-recorded at a slightly slower tempo. I also did some minor tweaks to some of the levels, and re-recorded a couple of the guitar bits to make use of the effects pedal I got for Christmas last year. But there is still a fair amount of work yet to do, what with re-recording bits and adding more depth in a few places.
Worship at camp
Camp was by far the biggest musical input of this year, as I was leading the music and worship for the whole week, which is quite normal for camp but still a lot of effort in a condensed period of time. I found it quite hard work this year though, partly because I wasn’t quite in the right place, spiritually, to lead as effectively as in previous years (in my opinion). It was also harder because I didn’t have my core group of musicians that I had got used to – Sarah had double booked herself so couldn’t make it, and Greg was needed on another camp and the dates clashed. The musicians I actually worked with were brilliant, but it was just a lot harder work having a different group of people each evening and not having an opportunity to gel as a band. Still, it was good fun overall and I’m looking forward to next year!
That’s a quick summary of 2011. Well, not “quick”, but summarised nonetheless. Bring on 2012!