Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Embrace

I have been very struck by this painting over the last few days.  It hangs in the Farmhouse at Lox Lane Christian Centre near Shaftsbury.

My first reaction was “That’s something I could do with!”  The warm embrace of Jesus; an ordinary person being gathered up into his arms; the sense of security it conveys; the moment of wonder it implies.  Above all the simple, uncluttered love which flows out of this precious moment.

But then I thought again.  When we are feeling down, hurt, angry or confused, there are times when we push others away rather than looking to them for comfort.  There have been times in my life when I have done this with God.  I kept God at arm’s length for some time after my wife’s accident 15 years ago.  My sense of pain and bewilderment meant that the warmth of God’s embrace was the last thing I wanted.  I wasn’t sure I trusted Him anymore and a hug or a kiss would not have made it all better.

Perhaps now, as I come to terms with cancer, I don’t want to be hugged by Christ, no matter how special that would seem to be.  I am not a very touchy-feely kind of person at the best of times and, as I wrote in my last post, I am currently fighting depression as the intensity of treatment gives way to the limbo of watchful waiting.

But as I continued to look at the painting, I noticed more than simply the embrace.  I saw his hands with the mark of the nails, still red and bloody.  I saw the crown of thorns still there, biting into his head.  This is a risen Christ that still bears the scars and the pain of his crucifixion – who still bears the marks of his own death.

This is a Jesus who understands pain, sorrow and confusion.  This is the Jesus who cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  This is the Jesus who was “despised and rejected, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” and who “bore our suffering” as he hung there.

It is this Jesus who gathers us up into his loving embrace.

So perhaps my first reaction was right after all.  I would like to feel the warm embrace of Christ afterall.  It is not an embrace which ignores the downsides of life.  It is not escapism into a world of fluffy clouds and impossible dreams.  It is the down to earth embrace of the man of sorrows, whose love brings light into the darkest places of our lives and which can melt the hardest of hearts.

The very last words of the Bible are these,

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen”

Perhaps today I would add –

The embrace of the Lord Jesus be with us too.  Amen

Monday, 2 April 2018

After Treatment

I started to write this post in our local hospice on Wednesday of Holy Week. 

Don’t worry, I’m not at death’s door or anywhere near.  I’m waiting for Mel who is having her regular family support appointment here.  Then we will be driving up to The Royal Marsden Hospital in London to talk to a researcher about a cancer genetics study which I’ve been invited to take part in.

Sitting in the hospice has prompted me to reflect on how I am coping.  After all, I am likely to spend more time here in the future – it may also be the place where I will eventually die.

I have now finished my cycles of ‘early chemotherapy’ plus two courses of radiotherapy.  On the positive side, my PSA has come down from the 300’s to the teens.  On the less positive side, the news from my latest CT Scan was mixed.  Some mets (tumours) have shrunk, some have grown, and there are some new ones.  Not quite the spectacular success I had hoped for.

The side-effects of chemo are fading, although some less than others and I am wondering if the tingling I feel in my tongue and fingers might be permanent.  The pain in my pelvis has returned after my first course of radiotherapy had successfully knocked it on the head.  Back pains are also more established.

One of the intriguing questions now focuses around which of my current symptoms are because of chemo and which are there because of the cancer.  My month signed-off work is drawing to a close and I need to decide if I feel well enough to go back.

The biggest challenge is a psychological one.

I have completed the initial treatment which was recommended when I was first diagnosed and now almost all of it will stop.  From having appointments once or twice a week for treatment, blood tests, scans and consultations, I now enter a new phase in which I will only see someone every 2or 3 months.  As long as my PSA keeps down, I won’t need the more intense treatments.  When it starts rising again, my oncologist will talk with me about what’s next.

This should make me happy and indeed I am happy to have finished chemo.  I am happy that my PSA numbers have come down.  I am happy that I should be able to live a relatively normally for a while…

...but I’m also scared.

While the treatment was full-on, it felt like everything was being done to fight the cancer, so I felt like I was fighting it too.  Now that I am entering a more relaxed stage, I feel like I have been parked in a side bay.  I feel quite alone and in danger of slipping into depression.  Getting over the initial shock, fighting the cancer and being determined not to give up has kept me going for the last 6 months.  Over the last few weeks I have started to feel this determination ebbing away.

It makes me reflect on the psychological stages of living with cancer.  For me, they have been as follows:

Chapter 1:  Initial shock

The panoply of tests, scans and biopsies to see how far it had spread;  waiting for the results;  the mixture of shock, denial and endless questions when they came back;  slowly adapting life expectations, plans, hopes and dreams as reality sets in;  telling family, friends & work colleagues and managing their reactions to the shocking news.

Chapter 2:  Full steam ahead

Getting used to hormone therapy, radiotherapy and the cycles of chemo; the regular round of doctors, nurses and specialists asking me how I am coping; the hope that the inconvenience and side-effects are all worth it; the determination to get through each day, each cycle, each phase and carry on with life as fully as possible.

Now I’m in Chapter 3

I’m not sure what to call it yet but it feels like a big let-down.  Apart from the hormone implants, I will have nothing to steel myself for.  Every few months I will have a blood test and wait with baited breath to see if my PSA has started to rise.  The intensity of chapters 1&2 and the adrenalin which went with them is gone.  Its bit like the morning after a great party, when everything is silent, and you are on your own again, nursing a mild hangover.

I have already seen the clouds of depression circling overhead.  I am less likely now to respond to messages from friends, preferring to be on my own.  That’s not helped by feeling tired all the time.  It would be so easy to slip into the deep padded cushions of apathy and give up. I have suffered depression before, and I know the signs.

The challenge is to adapt to this new pattern without succumbing to the cloud’s dark shadows – to take advantage of the lull in treatments – to live a little more instead of a little less.

I  finished writing this post in the afterglow of Easter.

Circumstances did not allow me to join in the events of the Passion this year.  Maundy Thursday was spent at the Royal Marsden Hospital and Good Friday driving back to Dorset.  But yesterday in our village church, the joy of the resurrection broke through the gloom.  I found myself looking at the stained-glass window of the risen Christ, knowing that now is the time when our faith bears fruit.  After everything was thrown at him on the cross; after he was laid in a dark, lonely tomb; after all hope was lost, he rose again!  Life once more entered the darkness and dispelled it with light.

His resurrection gives me hope.  I will not succumb to the dark clouds and I will ask God to raise me up again for this next chapter.  Above all, I will remember his resurrection promise, “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Saturday, 24 March 2018


Crossing the Line - part 19

While at university, my path towards ordination continued.

I met with my DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands) in Manchester when I was at home with Mum and Dad and in my second year, I was deemed ready for ACCM (see below for explanation!)

The Church of England selection conference for ordination is a strange animal with many names.  These days it is called a BAP – with apologies to friends in the Midlands and Northern England where this means something entirely different!  In the past it has also been CACTM and ABM.  In my day it was the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry (ACCM).  Whatever the name, it has changed little over the years.  It’s a three-day residential selection panel, that can feel like being in a human goldfish bowl.   As well as interviews with the selectors or advisors, there are group exercises and written pieces of work.  You are observed almost all of the time to see how you relate to others and express your faith and calling.  You are expected to sit at different tables each meal time to ensure that all the selectors get a good look at you.  The only times you are not being observed are in the regular acts of prayer and worship.  It’s a bit like a spiritual version of the TV series Big Brother, with Bishops Advisors instead of cameras.

Before I went however, there was still one thing on my mind that I needed to sort out.

At one of the university Christian Unions meetings I had heard a preacher called George Verwer.  He founded a missionary organisation called Operation Mobilisation (OM) in the 1950’s and was a compelling speaker.  He asked us what Jesus last commandment was, before he went back to heaven.

The answer is found in the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)

George argued that this last command calls on all Christians to be missionaries.  So the real question is not “Am I called to be a missionary?” but rather “Am I called to stay at home?”   His challenge went further, arguing that unless you hear God calling you to stay at home, your Christian duty is to go into all the world, because those were his last instructions.

This turned everything upside-down for me.  I had assumed that missionaries were the special few, called by God to a special task.  George Verwer was saying that we are all called to be missionaries unless God tells us otherwise.  I felt challenged and began to pray.  Was God indeed calling me to ordination in the Church of England or was he calling me overseas?  I needed to know.

The answer came from one of the few times that I have actually heard an audible voice.  One day at the end of my prayers I heard the words,Read Ezekiel 3.”  That was it.  No burning bush or blinding light.  No clap of thunder or vision of heaven.  Just a simple instruction to read this chapter of an Old Testament book about the prophet Ezekiel.

As I opened my Bible, I had no idea what I would find.  It was not a book or chapter I knew well and although I must have read it at some point, I couldn’t remember anything about it.  I was, therefore, utterly amazed by what I found there. 

“Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel – not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you.  But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.  But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are.  I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” (Ezekiel 3:4-9)

 It is part of the story of God calling Ezekiel to ministry.  Chapters 1 & 2 set the scene and in chapter 3 was the answer to my question.  There was no ambiguity – it was in black and white in front of me!  I couldn’t believe it.   As I read and re-read the chapter I realised that just as Ezekiel was called to his own people (the people of Israel) so God was calling me to my own people.  The realisation also came to me that this would not be an easy task.  “If I sent you to great nations that spoke difficult languages you didn’t understand… they would listen to you… but your own people will not listen.”  I wasn’t sure what this meant yet, but one thing I knew for sure – God was calling me to stay.

So early one March morning in 1984 I set off for my ACCM.  It was a long journey.  I had to travel from Oxford to Riding Mill in Northumberland.  It took 3 trains, the tube, and a 15-minute walk from the station at the other end to get to the retreat house.

The only preparation I received for my selection conference was the instruction “Go and be yourself lad, you’ll be fine.”  Compared with the way Dioceses prepare people for their selection conference today, that was decidedly minimalist!  So I went as myself, dressed in jeans, trainers, T-shirt and denim jacket, with my Adidas bag slung over my shoulder.

On the last train from Newcastle I noticed someone smartly dressed in his three-piece suit & tie and with his professional looking suitcase.  When I got off at Riding Mill Station he got off too, and started walking up the road to the retreat centre.  When I followed, I sensed him getting a little nervous at being followed up these deserted country lanes by a denim-clad stranger.  He started to quicken his pace and I thought of trying to catch up with him, as I was sure we were both heading for the same place.  Then I thought better of it.  If he was scared now, what would he be like if I started to run after him.  I slowed my pace to allow him to get away!

On arriving at the retreat centre I was looking at the visitors’ book and working out how to register, when I heard a voice saying, “Are you just leaving?”  I turned around and saw another smartly dressed man who had clearly taken one look at me and thought I couldn’t possibly be a potential ordinand.  What a welcome!  He turned out to be another of the candidates, not one of the selectors, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit out of place.

If I am honest though, it didn’t really bother me.  It may sound arrogant, but I knew God was calling me to be a priest, right down to the depth of my being.  I know that not everyone feels that way.  Many go with a much more questioning approach, wanting to test if this is for them, but I knew.  As a result, I wasn’t worried about getting a ‘No’ at the end.  If that happened it was the selectors who would have made a mistake, not me.  I would simply wait the statutory two years before I could try again.  Although this may seem arrogant, it wasn’t.  I didn’t think that I was God’s gift to the church.  I knew my weaknesses far too well for that.  I just knew, despite all my faults and failings, that this was God calling for me.

As the three days progressed I noticed that the other candidates did progressively dress down and if I am honest, I dressed a little smarter, putting a proper shirt over my T-shirt!  We almost ended up meeting in the middle.

The selectors were astute but kind, and they did their best to put us all at our ease.  My interviews went well, although I was a little disturbed by my educational interview because it was far too short.  Almost as soon as I walked through the door, the selector told me, “You’ll be alright; you’re at Oxford” and to all intents and purposes that was the interview.  While reassured to hear I would be ‘alright’, I did wonder if that was a little presumptuous.  Maths and Theology are miles apart and I hadn’t written essays since I was 16.  How had he come to this conclusion without asking me a single question?  It partly stuck in my throat because in those days, the only selector with a veto on recommending a candidate for ordination was the educational selector.   I wondered whether he gave a much harder time to candidates who had not been to Oxford.  It all felt a bit too elitist and cosy to me.

The two other things which stick in my mind about my ACCM Conference were nudity and drinking!

There was a group exercise called 10 minute topics.  Our names were drawn out of a hat at random and we each had to choose card from the coffee table in the middle of the room.  The cards were face-down and when you turned over your chosen card, you read the topic you had been given.  We then had 10 minutes to introduce the subject, then chair a group discussion and sum up at the end.

At 21, I was by far the youngest person in the room, and my name came out of the hat first.  I approached the table, chose a card and turned it over.  It read “Beach nudity – harmless fun or moral outrage?”  I almost burst out laughing.  Looking around the more elderly group I was in, I took a deep breath and launched into the subject.  Why couldn’t I have got one of the easy topics like fox hunting, pacifism, or euthanasia?!

Outlining arguments from each point of view, I opened it up for discussion.  Silence.   It was like trying to get blood out of a stone or discuss nudity at a Church Council meeting.  Half of the room were too embarrassed to speak and the other half were worried about saying something which would place them in a negative light with the selectors – either too judgemental or too permissive.

After a bit of encouragement, one brave soul opened his mouth and began with the words, “When I was in the south of France…”  Thank you God!  Then others chipped in and it went well in the end.

The other memory I have is from the second evening.  We had been told by the selectors that attendance at Compline (night prayers) was optional and we could choose whether to attend or not.  So on the second day, a small group of us took the selectors at their word, missed Compline and went to the pub instead.  After we ordered our drinks and sat down, we noticed one of the selectors was also in the pub, sitting at another table. Was he having some time out too, or was he there to spy on us?  Initially we all felt like we were back at school and had been caught sneaking out, but then we relaxed and enjoyed our evening.  We did swap contact details and promised to let each other know if got through of not – a kind of straw poll on whether nipping down to the pub was seen as a black mark at selection conferences.

The three days came to an end and we all went our separate ways, knowing that the decisions lay with the selectors’ now.

During the long journey back to Oxford I couldn’t believe how tired I felt.  I was exhausted and more than that, a kind of depression set in.  As the adrenaline levels fell away, far from feeling close to God and eager to know if my vocation had been recognised, I felt down, exhausted and alone. 

Working as I do now in encouraging Vocations, I now know that this is common among people who go to BAPs today (Bishops Advisory Panels) but I think it is still underestimated.  Parish priests and supportive friends would do well to know that most candidates will need more encouragement after a BAP than before it. Candidates also need to know what to expect and be allowed to cut themselves a little slack after attending one.

About ten days later the phone call came from my DDO.  I had been warmly recommended with two conditions; that I finish my degree at university, and that I didn’t go to theological college straight from university.  I should spend at least a year doing something different first.

I was over the moon!  It was 5 years since I had first filled in a form to explore ordination and now I had been recommended for training.  I also welcomed the time out before theological college with open arms, having already decided that there were lots of exciting things that I would like to do.  My mind went back to my father who was told the same thing after his selection conference.  It was suggested that he should go and work in a book shop, but instead got himself a job on the shop-floor of a steel works.  What would I do?

With my parents in 1984
Telling my parents was a particular joy.  They had always been very careful not to influence me in any way.  Ever since I told them at 16, they had been totally neutral and had never expressed an opinion, for or against.  Now, as I told them my result, they were openly overjoyed and finally told me they thought God was calling me to ordination all along.

When our little group from the pub let each other know our outcomes, guess what?  We had all been recommended.  In the end, neither beach nudity nor drinking had been a barrier to any of our callings being recognised – perhaps they even helped!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Runcie and Palin

Crossing the Line - part 18

I have always loved practical jokes.  Obviously, I like them more when playing them on others, but I even enjoy being the target!

At school there was a tradition of making the most of April Fool’s Day.  It was the one day in the year when the tight cords of discipline seemed to be loosened for a while.  One year our class started small by sitting in the wrong seats, confusing our teachers a little, but when we saw that this was all too easily rectified, we swapped everyone’s desks around instead.  This was more disruptive as our desks contained our books, pens, pencils etc.  After the next teacher made us rearrange them back, we went one step further, co-operating with the class next door to swap over about half our desks between the two classrooms.  This was satisfyingly successful in interrupting the teaching schedule of the day.

As we got older, we became more ambitious. 

The staff room was a prime target.

One year I persuaded the dinner ladies to turn their backs for a moment while transporting the tea urn up to the staff room at lunch time.  I added around 1,000 sweeteners to the urn, making it undrinkable and resulting in a few teachers spraying tea across the room when they took their first mouthful.

A couple of my friends managed to put a chain and padlock around the door handles to the staff room during morning break when they were all there having their 15 minutes of peace.  At the end of break, when they tried to return to their classes they found that they couldn’t get out and the whole school was blissfully bereft of teachers for about 30 minutes while the maintenance staff found bolt-cutters big enough to set them free.

Then there was a school governors meeting on one April 1st.  Our governors arrived in their posh cars and parked them in the quad.  Daimlers, Jaguars, even a Rolls Royce.  I couldn’t resist it. I raided the art room for large sheets of paper and covered their windscreens with huge price tags. Finding a portable blackboard, I put a sign out by the road which said “Luxury Car Sale – Today Only – Come inside!”  There were several enquiries at the school office before it was removed.

My most ambitious plan came to nothing however.  We had a Great Hall with 800 wood and wicker chairs to seat the whole school for assembly.  They weren’t that comfortable, but they were quite old and of some value.  Wouldn’t it be great if one day we all arrived for assembly to find them gone?  It’s not that I wanted to steal them – just store them in a room nearby and lock them in with a chain.  I left a window slightly ajar in one of the corridors and sneaked in at night to case the joint, only to be disappointed.  The only unlocked room available to was so far away that it would have taken all night (and a great deal of hard work) to transport them that far. 

In my part time job as a waiter, I succeeded in tricking my manager with an exploding cigar.  John was very astute, so the only way he would fall for it, was if he was convinced that the cigar was a genuine gift from a customer.   He loved smoking and this was a genuine, quality cigar which I had doctored by inserting 3 explosive caps in the end.  I gave one of our customers the cigar to give back to me as a tip, at the end of the meal. He played his part wonderfully, waiting until John was watching, and then making a fuss of giving me the cigar despite my protestations that I didn’t smoke.    Knowing that John saw this, I waited until he asked me about it, replying, “You know I don’t smoke John – do you want it?”   The plan worked like a dream and a group of us were hiding around the corner outside when John went out to enjoy this unexpected treat.  As it exploded, we jumped out to compound the effect.  That was a night which went with a bang!

University was a target rich environment for such fun.  As we got to know each other, we discovered who was fair game. After arriving at Brasenose, I discovered that among its famous past students were Robert Runcie, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, and Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.  What a combination to aspire to!  The faith of an Archbishop and the humour of Monty Python!

At one small party, a group of us took the furniture out of our host’s room when he went to get more drinks. There was a flat roof above his room and we arranged it all on the roof, in the same pattern as it had been in the room.  In our final year student house, hiding several of our alarm clocks in Andy’s bedroom was fun, set to go off at half hour intervals during the night.  Andy did very well to keep his sense of humour, although I do remember being woken up to the sound of an alarm clock being thrown down the stairs with some force!  Being forced into a cold bath, fully clothed, by a group of friends was always a favourite, and I suffered this at the hands of my friends more than once.

One of my favourites pranks was on Jonathan who led the Christian Union in college with me.  Jonathan was always (and still is) very well presented.  Well dressed, close shaved and respectable.  He could also come across as quite serious sometimes, so he was an ideal target.

Using the same window trick as I used at school, I gained access to his room while he was rowing early one morning.  I took his comb and gave it to another friend with the instruction, “Hide this and don’t tell me where.”  When I saw Jonathan later that day, he looked frustrated and told me that he couldn’t find his comb.

The next time he was rowing, I sneaked in again, took his toothbrush and gave it to the same friend to hide.  This time he was more frustrated and was getting suspicious.  When he asked me if I knew where it was, I could reply in total honesty that I had no idea.  A few days later, I took his razor on the morning of a tutorial.  Jonathan was furious at having to turn up to see his tutor unshaved.  Again I could assure him that I didn’t know where they were.   He was confused.  On the one hand, he suspected me but on the other, surely I wouldn’t lie to him.

The grand finale came the next morning.  As Jonathan went to the shower in the next building, wearing only a dressing gown, I sneaked into his room again, this time removing all his clothes and toiletries, putting them into my trunk.  I had also asked my other friend to give me back Jonathan’s comb, razor and toothbrush and I put them in too.  After Jonathan had returned from his shower, I quietly placed the trunk directly outside his door and hid nearby, listening.  He was humming a tune until he opened one of his drawers.  Then the humming stopped and the sound changed to that of each drawer being opened & closed quickly and wardrobe doors being opened and then slammed shut.  There was a strange noise somewhere between a roar and a scream.  After another few of seconds, I heard Jonathan wrench open his door, followed by a clattering noise as he practically fell over the trunk as he stormed out.

By then of course, he knew it was me.  He recognised my trunk and waited for me to ask for it back.  As always, he was gracious, even good humoured by the time I plucked up the courage!

Some of the most Pythonesque moments of college life were in fact, the college traditions.

There were Ale Verses on Shrove Tuesday each year, when formal dinner descended into a food fight with the pieces of lemon that came with the pancakes.  Students would stand on the ancient tables drinking old English ale and singing hastily composed satirical lyrics to well-known tunes, poking fun at the college and its senior staff.  During this melee, the High Table (which seated the college principle and other teaching fellows) would sit there impassively eating their pancakes pretending nothing unusual was happening!

Then there was Ascension Day.  In my first year, when I lived in college, I remember being woken at about 10am by the sound of clattering sticks and children laughing.  When I looked out of the window, I saw 20 or more choristers in their choir robes, each with a long cane pole hitting the wall underneath my room.  This was repeated several times during the morning as groups of rampaging choir boys from Oxford churches descended on the college to ‘beat the bounds’ – an ancient tradition of checking that the parish boundary markers had not be moved, demolished or hidden. 

But the day got even more bizarre.  At lunchtime, a ‘secret’ door was opened between Brasenose and its neighbour Lincoln College.  Students at Brasenose were invited to pass through the door and given Ivy Beer as recompense for Lincoln refusing to allow entry to a Brasenose student who was being chased by a town mob.  The student was killed and Lincoln College were ordered to provide Ivy Beer to Brasenose students on Ascension Day every year in perpetuity, as a way of redeeming themselves.  When we got to Lincoln quad with our Ivy Beer we then witnessed another strange sight.  There were students on the roof heating coins in boiling water, and then throwing them down onto the grass, where children from the town were running round collecting them with handkerchiefs to protect their hands from being burned.  With the rising alcohol level from the Ivy Beer, hot coins raining down from the roof, and children rushing around to collect them, it increasingly felt like a scene reminiscent of Apocalypse Now.  Totally surreal.  I am sure that Health & Safety must have put a stop to that one by now.

The other regular event on the Oxford calendar which can cause amusement or disdain are the celebrations at the end of university exams.  It is now a well-established tradition that you are met out of your last exam by friends who will spray you with Champagne, shaving foam and silly string.  It was actually Pomagne for ordinary students like us – any Champagne was strictly for drinking, not getting wasted on the pavement!    

Apparently, it is now known as ‘Trashing’ and is much more organised that in the 1980s, but the aim is the same.  It is a way of breaking the tension that the exams bring;  of celebrating the end of them, rather than sloping off in a depressed whimper!  I remember being ambushed in college after Mods (1st year exams) by an enthusiastic group of friends and being completely soaked after Finals as I left the Examinations building.

All in all, there was lots of humour, life and fun at Oxford when you didn’t take it too seriously.  My final year was made even more fun by moving into a house just off the Cowley Road with five friends.  We ate together, we laughed together, and watched American Football together every week on Channel 4, which is where my love for the sport came from. 

Soon after we moved in, Andy answered the phone with the greeting “Oxford home for wicked women” only to find my father (a vicar) at the other end of the line!  Nick’s bed was held off the floor on piles of bricks which was fine until they collapsed in the night.  Natalie and Rob were great cooks, which always made their meals very popular, and we held regular dinner parties for friends with several courses of delicious food – a million miles away from student beans on toast.  Anne and I continued to work out how to get a Maths degree.  Anne was much more successful than me, but I scraped through in the end, despite my other full time job with the Christian Union which only came to an end in my final term!   

Dressed up for Finals
When it came to Finals, we each chose songs to play at full volume early in the mornings of our exams, to psyche ourselves up.  Given the formal clothes we had to wear for exams, I chose Smart Dressed Man by ZZ Top on the first day, followed by Back in Black by AC/DC on the second.

These were good days.  They made up for the stress I felt in the often intellectually sectarian Christian world, not to mention the demands of both studying for a degree and spending 45 hours a week in Christian ministry.

They were, I hope, very much in the footsteps of Runcie and Palin.  Thank you both for your inspiration!