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Sabbatical, Day 72: Easter Is A Time For Spending

Bank Holidays can be full of energy, frustration or inertia in my experience. Today has fallen into the last of those three categories. Eschewing the idea of going somewhere big after a bad experience trying to get to Colchester Zoo one previous BH, the children suggested a return visit to Wat Tyler Country Park. However, this morning’s rain put paid to such plans and we ended up taking our picnic into Chelmsford town centre – not quite so picturesque. Some of that same picnic ended up with the pigeons and ducks courtesy of the children. OK, only the bread – nothing else.

Becky got a chance to spend some more birthday money. Like her mum, she adores that well-known craft shop, Poundland. She picked up some arty things there. She also bought an adaptation of Heidi in Waterstone’s. She loves that story. Meanwhile, Mark and I had boys’ time, heading for Camera World. I bought some camera cleaning gear and began a conversation about a first camera for His Nibs’ fifth birthday in August. Sounds like we’re heading for a Praktica.

Other than that, it’s time for things to break at present in our home. Over the weekend we had to buy a replacement DVD player and today it was the turn of our inkjet printer. The local Tesco Home Plus had a great deal on end of line stock and I picked up a Canon Pixma iP4600 for £44. No box or other packaging, with mains lead, ink cartridges, CD of software and manual all stuffed in a scruffy broken envelope. But who cares? That’s half price.

Everything goes in threes, Debbie says. The third item after the high-tech of the DVD player and the printer was, the, er, pepper mill. However much I like gadgets, I resisted the idea of a battery-powered model. Having been let down quickly by one from a supposedly reliable make, Cole and Mason, bought from Debenham’s in a sale, we went down market for a Tesco own brand.

So we seem to have spent the Easter weekend spending money. It doesn’t quite feel like an appropriate way to mark the death and resurrection of the Lord of life whose kingdom is countercultural, but we haven’t gone looking to do any of it and will have to balance the bank account later. Or seek divine assistance to that end!


Golf is one of those sports I find thoroughly boring. (Unlike cricket, which is subtle, tactical, and brain-engaging. Really.)

But crazy golf is different, and little Mark discovered a love for it on our summer holiday. So today – while his sister got taken to Colchester Zoo by friends – we took him to a nine-hole crazy golf course in Chelmsford. Somebody on another website had labelled it ‘the world’s least crazy crazy golf course’, but were we deterred? No!

It was less fun to arrive and find the entrance to the free car park blocked by a tractor and some traffic cones. That meant parking across the other side of Waterhouse Lane in Meteor Way, a cost of three pounds. Thankfully, when Debbie told the guy at the course our story he knocked that off our charges.

Then we set off to find the course. As soon as we found it, we had to agree with the other website: it is the world’s least crazy crazy golf course. I managed a couple of rough pictures on my phone. Here’s one: 

It shows Mark in action, and what you see corresponds with the photo on the other site. It’s the – er, exciting hole. For a little lad like him, the lack of windmills, houses and other obstructions didn’t matter. He was a picture of happiness as he took his child-sized putter and tapped his ball from start to finish of each hole. Well, almost to the finish. After about half a dozen ‘shots’, he generally picked up the ball and threw it in the hole. We let him play on his own – he is an introvert like his Dad – and it wasn’t long before he was lapping his parents as if he were not Padraig Harrington but Lewis Hamilton.

So is a little four-year-old boy easily pleased? Maybe. But isn’t it also a lesson in simplicity? Like some drug addiction, we adults want more, bigger, better, faster. Yet a small boy can take a simple pleasure and find great joy. I think it’s something for us to chew on, when we talk about simple lifestyle.


We arrived home at the weekend from a fortnight on the Isle of Wight. I thought I’d type up a few highlights. No, please keep reading: this is meant to be more than those boring ‘let me show you my holiday pics’ conversations. I’ve tried to offer some reflections in what follows. If any of my stories or observations are helpful, feel free to pinch them. You might also smile or laugh – I hope.

Friday 15th August A wild fox entered the garden of the bungalow we were renting. The children (and we) were full of wonder. We are used to direct encounters with tame animals. Meetings with wild animals are usually managed or mediated, such as at the zoo. A direct encounter with the wild is not encouraged in our society – nor in our church. Was it Brennan Manning who called Jesus ‘wild’?

Saturday 16th We’re doing our little bit to make our break as eco-friendly as possible. Although we had to drive here and take the ferry, Southern Vectis Buses do a great ‘freedom ticket‘: £40 for two adults and up to three children for a week. I know friends would advise cycling, but I have a poor sense of balance and can’t ride a bike.

Sunday 17th A return trip from last year to one of the most family-friendly churches we’ve ever come across: Shanklin URC.

Meanwhile (not during the service!) I’m finally reading Tom Wright‘s ‘Surprised By Hope‘. Great quote on page 87, recounting part of Oscar Wilde‘s play ‘Salome‘. Herod the tyrant wants to forbid Jesus from raising the dead. He asks his courtier, ‘Where is this man?’ The courtier replies, ‘He is in every place, my lord, but it is hard to find him.’ Jesus is elusive in so many ways – not just the sense of his absence since the ascension but yet present by his Spirit, also the way that we no more than Herod can control him.

Monday 18th Two newspaper articles over the weekend bring out the dark side of the Olympics. Matthew Syed in The Times points out that the modern Olympics were founded with an elitist bias and they remain so, especially in favour of western sports and the privately educated. Ian Gallagher in the Mail On Sunday tells an awful story of how one Chinese pistol shooter managed his best ever score. He won bronze, only to be humiliated on national TV for not winning gold. And before we get too snooty about the Chinese (who clearly used the Games rather like Soviet Russia and the USA before the Berlin Wall fell), let’s remember the ritual humiliation the British press has handed out to sports stars like Tim Henman in the past.

Tuesday 19th We’re waiting at Ryde bus station to catch either the number 2 or 3 back to Shanklin. Rebekah and Mark have been frustrated that only Mum and Dad have had a bus timetable. They find a box of them on the ground. A customer assistant walks over to take one for a passenger who has made an enquiry. Beautifully, she asks our children if she may take one from the box. ‘Yes,’ replies Mark, ‘but you must put it back!’

Wednesday 20th A trip to Amazon World: not only a chance to see some animals, but the opportunity (if the kids let us read the displays, ha ha) to learn more about conservation projects and the plight of the world’s rain forests. In the gift shop, Rebekah’s eye is taken – as always – by bright and sparkly things. In this case, they are small chunks of rocks and minerals. Since they are only £1.50, I agree she can choose one. She selects Pyrite, a.k.a. ‘Fool’s Gold’. She spends the rest of the holiday desperate to take her Fool’s Gold everywhere. I’m sure you can find your own parallels …

Thursday 21st Fired Art Ceramics Café in Ryde is our venue to decorate a bowl ready for my parents’ golden wedding anniversary in October. We didn’t notice the café bit, but the proprietor was warm and welcoming. She struck the right balance between needing to protect delicate and hot items, yet children feeling safe and happy. Now there’s a challenge for our churches.

Friday 22nd If you’re ever in Shanklin Old Village, you have to buy an ice cream at Pearly Boise. An unbelievable huge range of home made flavours. It’s three months to the next dental check-up. More on ice cream in the next few days’ entries: you’ll see why.

In the afternoon, we take the children for their (and my!) first ever experience of live circus. Jay Miller’s Circus does not use animals, so we are happy. It’s not the biggest one you’ll ever see, but there were some astonishing acrobats, and we were ringside – which meant that Debbie and Rebekah got covered in spaghetti and custard pie from Peppi the clown. They weren’t distressed: Mark was.

Saturday 23rd Rebekah has an invitation next month to a ten-pin bowling birthday party, so we thought we’d better introduce her to its delights. At least it proves to be a delight to her when she wins, but not when she is second or lower. It turns out that on Ryde Esplanade there is a branch of LA Bowl ten-pin. Finding details before we went to the Isle of Wight had been frustrating. Tourist information sites listed the bowling alley, and it’s mentioned on LA Bowl’s home page, but not when you click ‘locations‘! They have a visibility and communication problem – not unlike the church.

Sunday 24th My sister and her boys come over from Hampshire for the day and meet us at Dinosaur Isle. (I’m a theistic evolutionist, not a creationist or Intelligent Design guy.) The Isle of Wight is rich in fossil history. It was over the heads of our kids, who still haven’t grasped that dinos are extinct, unlike my ten-year-old nephew, who fancies a career as a paleantologist. One section of the exhibition invites you to put your hand inside slots in a box and guess what you are feeling. Unfortunately, the first thing Mark feels is dino poo! We hear for the rest of the holiday about how it should have been flushed away.

Later, watching the BBC Ten O’Clock News, James Reynolds reports on the closing ceremony of the Olympics. He opens by saying, ‘In a state which has no god, the Olympics have been a religion.’ He closes with the words, ‘Now these people will have to find something else to believe in.’ Perhaps G K Chesterton was right all those decades ago when he said that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. Or as Bob Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody.

Monday 25th Rain makes us reverse our plans. An afternoon visit to The Old Smithy at Godshill becomes a morning visit. Instead of gorging ourselves on the finest cakes we’ve ever found in four holidays on the island, we settle for morning scones. Still stunning.

Then we make a return visit to Robin Hill. We’d been the previous Monday, and if you return within seven days, you get in free. Bad news: no longer do they sell New Forest Ice Cream, they’ve gone over to Minghella’s. The latter has apparently won forty-four awards, and was described in the Sunday Times as the best tasting ice cream ever. Could have fooled us. It melts in seconds, is indistinguishable in taste from ordinary stuff, and costs £1.70 per cone instead of £1.40 for New Forest. The biggest taste in Minghella’s is the hype.

Tuesday 26th We’re in Newport when Debbie suddenly sees a bus for Alum Bay. Now I’ve wanted to go there all holiday, I just can’t take her sudden and impulsive plan-changing approach to life. We won’t have time for everything there in a couple of hours. But we do get to the spectacular chairlift. Debbie and Rebekah, the family daredevils, love it. I have to restrain my intermittent vertigo to be safe person for little Mark, who is frightened at first. Sometimes that’s what I’m called to do in other ways as a minister. Churches don’t like looking down at the drop sometimes, but rather than staying on terra firma, I have to encourage them to get out on the chairlift, even if I too am frightened at the thought of looking down.

Wednesday 27th The Isle Of Wight Zoo And Tiger Sanctuary (‘Home Of ITV’s Tiger Island‘, we are repeatedly told) is much smaller than our much-loved Colchester Zoo. Enclosures are overgrown, with some plants even growing up the sides, making it difficult to see some animals. We have overgrowth in the church, making it hard for people to see Jesus.

More light-heartedly, we were watching some lemurs when one spontaneously urinated in front of everyone. Rebekah launched into an instant chant or rap: ‘Do some wee! Do some wee! We want you to do some wee!’ Thank goodness they didn’t know I was a ‘vicar’.

Thursday 28th On an X40 Island Coaster, returning to Alum Bay. The bus is crammed with people most of the journey. We stop en route at Ventnor. The bus driver calls out, ‘Anyone for Ventnor?’ Not thinking everyone has heard he even climbs out of his cockpit and comes upstairs where we are. He repeats, ‘Anyone for Ventnor?’ ‘No!’ cries back Rebekah, obviously thinking she has the right to speak for everyone. Do you know people like that.

Well, I think that will have to do. Hopefully this has raised a few smiles and given the odd pause for thought.