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Giving back a little of what I’ve been given

On a sunny and bright January Sunday I escorted my elderly Mother to her local church.

A confirmed Christian, my dear old Mum has been attending the same church since I was a child.

I attended this very church until I started work; I was confirmed there when I was about thirteen. 

My Parents continued as paid-up practising Christians, but I lapsed over the years, perhaps because I came to realise that, in my own very humble opinion, most religions (with the exception of Buddhism) are possibly the root cause of most types of conflict – best summarised as “My God is better than your God, so I will persuade or force you to believe in My God”.

I reckon that over the centuries, this has probably caused more wars than everything else combined. So, I got heartily fed up with it and decided that whilst I do believe in a force of good and evil, I stopped subscribing to any belief system that punishes people for being human.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe in a supreme infinite being.

I do.

I don’t think for one moment, that the perfectly integrated natural world in which we live happened by some cosmic accident. That would be akin to me taking a 5000-piece jigsaw, and throwing the pieces into the air, and then have them all land in the form of a flawlessly completed puzzle.

Folks, that just ain’t gonna happen is it?

Somehow, I feel more connection these days to ancient paganism.  My Great-Grandfather was a Senior Druid. The limited amount of research I have conducted into both my Great Grandfather and Druidism shows them to be cognisant and respectful of the seasons – the natural flows and rhythms of the planet.  Living in harmony with nature, and looking for ways to co-exist with our fellow inhabitants of this lonely rock we call home.

Stonehenge – A Place of Beauty and Tranquility.

I don’t go to church that much these days, mainly family “duty” missions – hatchings, matchings and despatchings.

Having said that, whenever I visit my dear old Mum on a Sunday, I willingly take her to morning service, as I know it gives her great pleasure, and that in turn makes me happy too.

I normally combine this with a pleasant and relaxed drive through the beautiful Sussex countryside, through forests and heathland, traversing the undulating folds of this green and pleasant land, passing through villages that were already old when the Doomsday Book was still in draft form.

The High Weald of Mid Sussex Home to writers such as A.A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and… Me!

The trip normally routes via a small farm where we stop, and collect a dozen fresh eggs from the tiny stall at the gate, leaving a couple of pounds in the honesty box.

The last port of call before home is normally into a pleasant country golf club that serves the best coffee for miles around according to Mater.

Nestled in a quiet valley of the Sussex Weald – the home of the best coffee in Mid Sussex – allegedly!

But back to the story…

Having attended Sunday school since I was old enough to walk, I have a relatively good understanding of the Christian faith and see that it gives a lot of comfort and support to a lot of people.

I, therefore, believe that I am not a total charlatan or hypocrite when I take my mother to her local church on a Sunday morning. In some respects, I find it quite cathartic.

So – coming back to 0830 on that January Sunday. 

It was a beautiful, crisp, clear morning, with azure blue skies; sporadic fluffy white clouds, and a cool wind, stirring the bushes as I walked the route to the church, over paths and roads that were etched into my memory over fifty years ago. 

However, the speed at which I walked them was considerably slower than way back then.  Echos of my childish laughter bounce back from the weathered brick walls and moss-clad fences.

I now meander, rather than stride. Mum is now much slower since her falls and as it’s a beautiful morning, I am content to wander next to her, as she regales me with an endless stream of chatter, telling me all that has happened in her busy week.

I greatly admire my Mother. My Father was her rock, and when he passed away 8 years ago, I thought that the strain and grief would kill her as well.  However, the old girl is made of much sterner stuff, and it wasn’t long before she bounced back. 

However, I know the amount of grit and strength this demanded of her.

She now enjoys an active social life, working part-time in the church cafe, attending various church groups – and up until recently, driving every week to meet up with her “old ladies” (all, of whom were younger than she was!) in one of the local towns, a short drive away.

She is now a regular bus rider and travels all over the counties of Sussex and Kent to visit different towns and shopping centres.  Far from becoming a hermit, I now almost have to make an appointment to see my own mother!

Where next?

So, it was on this lovely day that we sat down in the small Methodist chapel, resplendent in its gleaming white paint.

The modern contemporary Church. Light airy, and fresh…

I recognised many of the folk in the congregation. Some I knew from years ago; the parents of some of my contemporaries, now aged, stooped, wrinkled and infirm. Some were my age, in their late fifties or early sixties and at least one nodded to me and smiled a greeting.

I joined in the hymns – somewhat unenthusiastically I admit. I have never been a great fan of Charles Wesley, and this service merely reinforced my views that he should have been taken away and summarily pecked to death by ducks for writing such appalling dirges.

I have more affinity with the happy, loud hymns created at Gospel churches. They seem to know how to really enjoy their worship.

The service was officiated by the incumbent vicar. His sermon gave me the inspiration to write this article.

His lesson was actually quite interesting and contained one very important quote. He was referring to the offertory, and he made the statement “you are only giving back a tiny fraction of what the Lord gave you”

This fragment of his sermon stuck with me, and my thoughts kept returning to it, unbidden throughout the following weeks.

Yes, for the comparatively paltry amount of a fiver, which is what I furtively chucked into the collection plate, I have always been on the upside of the equation.  I am fortunate in so many areas of my life.

Giving a little back…

I am relatively fit and whilst I am no Einstein, I do have a reasonable level of intelligence and education. I hold down a good job, and as a result, I live in a nice house in a beautiful part of Southern England, surrounded by nature and enjoy a good standard of living.

I have been so privileged, that through my accident of birth, I was born into an age of good medicine and healthcare and into a temperate and civilised country.

In addition, the country in which I live, has a decent democratic society, with a generally compassionate and caring nature.

I could have so easily been born into poverty and disease, or a totalitarian society with brutal law enforcement, where there is no such thing as individual freedom or a free media and press.

What value could be placed on these fundamental privileges?

So, yes, the old padre was correct in his sermon.

My fiver, will hopefully go to aid those so desperately in need of it; medical relief in sub-Saharan Africa? a school in the slums of Brazil? clean water in the hinterlands of Tanzania?

It matters not where it goes.  I do know that it will be sent where it is needed most – and hopefully will make a difference to someone’s life.

Go Well…

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Timeslip – and the Absurdity of Twinning…

I recently visited my elderly Mother in the sleepy West Sussex town that I grew up in. She still lives in the same house, which, despite being redocorated several times, still seems familiar to me in a way that is almost impossible to describe.

I am a frequent visitor, but I still get catapulted back to my youth when I arrive.

I carried my lightly-packed wheelie bag up the stairs to “my” bedroom.

I can remember when we moved to the house back in 1971, my parents offering me the choice of bedrooms, as I was the eldest child, at the ripe old age of 10…(Seniority rules!). I did a quick recce of the rooms, and promptly chose the room with a northerly aspect.

Mum was surprised about this, as the room was quite a bit smaller thatn the room facing south. She pointed out that I may prefer the larger room as I would need to do homework there.

I stuck to my guns – I wanted the northerly view, as this gave me a fantastic view of the aircraft descending on the glideslope into Gatwick airport, some eight miles to the west.

I smiled as I dumped my bag on the old wooden chair in the corner. I stood by the window, adopting almost the same position as my former boyhood self did fifty years ago.

A flash over the spire of St. Mary’s Church caught my attention. Even with my age-inhibited eyesight, I could still make out the colour and shape; a Norweigian Boeing 787, respendent in it’s red and white livery.

Norweigian 787
Norweigian 787 on Approach to Land

Back then I used to spend hours in my bedroom, armed with pair of Prinzflex 10 x 50 binoculars – a 10th birthday present from my Grandma. I am pleased to say, that despite several housemoves and a number of foreign holidays I still have these in my posession, and they still function perfectly.

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I was also the proud owner of a Vantone Airband Radio, My dear old Dad got it for me up Tottenham Court Road. I was thrilled to get this. It had Police, Public Service Broadcasts, Air Band, Sea Band and VHF so after a lot of trial and error I was able to tune the Gatwick Approach frequency and the Tower, and monitor the aircraft arrivals. God, I wish I still had that old set now. The hours I used to sit there, transfixed, listening to the exchanges between crew and air traffic control.

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No 787s then. My regulars were Air France Caravelles, British Island AIrways 748s, Tradewinds CL-44s, and the Braniff 747 – The Big Orange.

E21E78E0-D47C-4B13-B7F8-48F9CBE4F51C Tradewinds Canadair CL-44 at Gatwick Airport

All the registrations that I saw and heard were dutifully recorded in a battered notebook, together with scrawled notes of times and dates.

I have to face it. At that time in my life I was a certifiable addict. I needed my aeroplane fix every day,

Going to school was just an inconvenient interruption to my passion, and I spent many lessons just gazing into the sky. Sorry Mister Clifford. It’s not that you didn’t make Physics interesting, its just that my mind was always elsewhere.

Mr Woolcock, you tried so hard to fire my imagination up with chemistry, but moles and millimoles weren’t my thing. 707s and 747s were my thing.

I was so fired up with this disease called aviation that I even cycled the 9 miles each way to London Gatwick Airport every day of my school holidays to watch aircraft.

It was all so innocent by todays standards. I would park my bike by the simple chainlink fence, and climb up the steel emergency steps on the side of the gate building. Once up on the roof, I could walk all the way down the building and set up shop at the end of the pier.

From my vantage point I could actually look down at the BIA Herald aircraft sitting on the ramp below – not something that could be done now.

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So – visiting my dear old Mum caused a bit of a time slip – and I momentarily dropped through the temporal rift back to 1971.

Getting back on track then…

Knowing that my Mum is a regular church-goer, I took her to the Sunday morning service today. The church has been thoroughly modernised, but the congregation and the format of the service has not.

I recognised a good few of them. Many were the then young parents of my contemporaries back in the day. Now old, stooped and struggling, but still happy to belt out the hymns, most of which were unfamiliar to me. I nodded to some, and exchanged a few words with others.

It was when I visited the loo to wash my hands that I discovered what is probably the most unusual cultural exchange.

Let me explain…

After World War Two ended, the  Council of European Municipalities (as it was then) promoted the twinning of communities from different member states as a way of bonding the fissures created by the war – a war which effectively ripped mainland Europe apart.

From the Town Twinning website, I found this descriptive quote on “Twinning”

“A twinning is the coming together of two communities seeking, in this way, to take action with a European perspective and with the aim of facing their problems and developing between themselves closer and closer ties of friendship”.

The medium sized community of East Grinstead in West Sussex covers just under ten square miles and has a population of just under 26,500.  The town has been here since the 1300s, and lies on the Greenwich Meridian – so stand in the right place, and you can have a foot in either hemisphere.

It is twinned with Bourg-de-Péage in France, and has other twins in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. This is heralded on the signs at the boundaries of the town.

This is all a very lofty ideal, and I have been to various events in the past including a French Market, and a German Beer Festival hosted by the town twinning association.

What I saw in the Church toilet though made me laugh out loud.

There, on the wall hung a framed photograph of a very basic toilet facility somewhere in Tanzania. Apparently, this toilet was twinned with the clean facility here in the Trinity Methodist Church.

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Toilet Twinning – The Way to Go?

Stifling my laughter, I decided to check the other lavatory in the foyer, and sure enough, that one had been twinned with a latrine in South Sudan.

I decided that I needed to check this out, and I visited the Toilet Twinning website, and it turns out that this, whilst initially amusing, has a serious aspect to it.

According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, about 2 billion people on this planet have no access to a safe and hygeinic lavatory.

Furthermore, almost 1,000 children die every day from preventable diseases that are linked to dirty water and unsafe lavatories.

From the website, it seems that anyone can twin their toilet with a latrine somewhere in the developing world, and the money raised goes to the International Relief and Development Agency’s “Tearfund”.

The money is used to provide clean water, hygeine education and basic sanitation.

I know which Twinning Association I prefer…

Have a good day…