Author Archives: SMCjon

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 38

Genesis 8 v 6 – 12

Hello Duck

We have experienced a few weeks of inclement weather recently, heavy rain and quite heavy snow, which has resulted in the ground being saturated. My front garden has standing water in the flower beds; however, the rear garden has suffered even worse.

I have 50 to 75 mm, (2 to 3 inches) of standing water over the majority of my lawn and the path leading up to the dry stone wall that i built last summer.

I always fancied a swimming pool but not just like this one.

In the past I have had a number of welcome visitors into my garden including, Hedgehogs, Woodpeckers, Pheasants, Foxes, and on two occasions Buzzards from the local Country Park. However, the flooded terrain has attracted something that I have not seen before in my garden.

Two ducks.

It could be argued that ducks are not unusual but these two were white ducks, the kind that are often seen in farmyards and I suspect that their ability to fly great distances is limited.

When COVID permits, I regularly don my walking boots and walk across the fields at the rear of my house and visit Locko Park, a private country park with public access. The centre piece of the park is the large mansion house, Locko Hall, but for me the large lake is far more interesting, particularly the water fowl that either resides on or around the water, or visits seasonally.

I find that standing beneath a large Willow tree looking out across the lake and observing the life on the water unfold before me to be extremely spiritual. This has been the source and inspiration of many a sermon in the past. I can understand when experts tell us that walking in the countryside and particularly beside water can be beneficial to our mental wellbeing.

On my visits to the lake I have regularly spotted a multitude of species of water fowl all with their own characters, some of which reflect that of many human equivalents.

There is the Grey Heron who is the sergeant major, shoulders back, chest out, head up, standing to attention on the island in the middle of the lake. It must have a nest close by and stands guard like a soldier on guard duty. He keeps a close eye on the RAF Heavy Bomber Squadron that approach in formation from the fields at the rear of the hall.

 These are the Canada Geese that come in low with their feet down like undercarriage, and then hit the water with a confusion of exploding spray that obliterates the birds for a second before they settle down.  I can imagine a, ‘Dam Buster’ type of conversion passing between them as they approach; ‘Red Leader calling, Target in view, right chaps I ‘m going in.’ and then the reply, ‘Blue Leader – Roger Red Leader we’re right behind you.’

All this excitement does not impress the Mallard Ducks; they are far too busy chatting up and trying to impress the girls. The boys have dressed up especially for the occasion, with their best suits on. Their colourful plumage with red, green and yellow makes them irresistible to the ladies, or so they think. They paddle around the girls showing off and dipping their heads in the water then shaking off the water droplets.

 ‘Are you dancing? ‘Then the reply.

 ‘Are you asking?’

Just like the Majestic Ballroom in Bradford on a Saturday night in the 1960s

The Crested Grebe always impresses me. It has a stature and a design that is perfect for its survival. Its long pointed beak, slender sleek body, and an ability to hold its breath longer that any scuba diver gives it the advantage over other competitors for the food in the lake.

It could be the nuclear submarine of the lake.

When its sensitive radar detects food under the surface its brain cries out, ‘Dive, dive, dive.’  And it disappears in a flash beneath the waves with hardly a ripple on the surface, but where will it resurface? I scan the area of its disappearance through my binoculars but never predict the right place; it always resurfaces in another part of the lake.

Genesis 8 v 6 – 12

Noah had a dilemma, the water was receding and his boat had come to rest but as no other land was visible around him he knew he must be on a mountain top and not on low land.

How could he discover the extent of the land that was available? He sent out a Raven but Ravens live in high places and do not need low lands. The Raven never returned.

Noah sent out a Dove who feeds on the ground but it found no ground to feed on so it returned. After several further attempts the Dove discovered food only available at a low dry level, a young Olive branch.

Noah knew the flood was over and it was safe to disembark.

I opened my Patio doors and accidentally scared the white ducks off; however, they did not fly away. They just waddled off through a gap in the fence and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Ah well I will have buy ducks eggs after all.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 37

Matthew 1 v 1 – 17.

Family Tree.

I am still pondering over the photographs in my wedding album and as I thumb through the pages the realisation of the passage of time is beginning to have an impact.

Some of the wedding guests I have not seen in many years and one or two of the wedding party seem to have disappeared into the mists of time.

More alarmingly, one group picture made me realise that I am the only person who is still breathing. Still after over fifty years, I suppose that will be inevitable.

There is one photograph that seemed to answer a question that had avoided my comprehension for the past four or five years.

I am blessed to have seven grandchildren, five grandsons and two granddaughters. All of them look down on me; due to the fact that they are all taller than I am, in fact most of them exceed six feet, (1.8m) in height. Two of them in particular have such height that they ought to have a red flashing light on their heads to warn low flying aircraft.

Strangely, Jean, me, and our daughters, are not tall people and we all struggle with high kitchen cupboards. So where has this lofty gene come from that has manifested itself in this generation?

It does have some advantages, however, when I need something retrieving from a high shelf I know who to call and it also means that they have to bow when entering my house which is very respectful.

For them it can be a problem. A standard size bed and bath is too short, which results in feet projecting out of the duvet or the bath water.

One picture from the album gave me a clue towards the answer to this conundrum. It is a picture of three generations of the Turton family tree, Grandparents from my mother’s side, my parents, me, and my grandparents from my father’s side.

When I was a child we always referred to my mother’s side as being, little Grandma and little Grandad as they were both vertically challenged, as was my mother. Little Grandma died some years before our wedding so only Little Grandad is on the picture.

On the other side was dad’s parents, ‘big’ grandma and ‘big’ Grandad, and there may be the answer to my problem.

Grandad Turton was enormous compared to everyone else. He stood head and shoulders above me, and waist, head and shoulders above my mum. It was not just his height; his shoulders and chest were all in proportion.  He was a big man.

He would have been in his eighties at the time of our wedding but he still had a full head of thick wavy hair and his posture was that of a sentry at Buckingham Palace.

Despite his size, he was a very quiet man, with few words to say, so conversations were short. His dress was always working class Victorian, braces, Corduroy trousers, big boots, waist coat, and for our wedding, a pocket watch and chain.

Was his the reoccurring gene in our modern generation?   

Matthew 1 v 1 – 17

Matthews Gospel starts with a detailed genealogy of the ancestors of Jesus.

It is the first gospel of the New Testament and a casual reading may cause the reader to wonder why it begins with a seemingly dull family tree. There may be a temptation to skip over it and get to where the action begins.

However, the genealogy is indispensable as it follows the birth of Christ back through the centuries to show that he is the legal descendent of King David’s royal line.

This is essential in proving the fulfilment of the prophecies and the coming to pass of God’s promise of the Messiah. The fulfilment that will take Jesus through his ministry and ultimately to death on the cross.   

The genealogy is the interface between the Old and New Testaments.

Matthew begins his witness in the only way he could, by proving without doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 36

John 2 v 1 – 10

Hold it – What a Picture

A couple of weeks ago, observing the 12 days rule, I put Jesus back in the wardrobe. He was in his manger, wrapped in his own plastic bag and tenderly placed in his own individual socket in the polystyrene block that will be his home till next year.

Above him are a donkey and two sheep, and at either side stand Mary and Joseph.

It is a nativity scene that my daughters bought for my wife Jean some years ago and as it is quite fragile I keep it in the wardrobe rather than in the roof space along with all the other Christmas annuals.

In order to reach the nativity box’s allocated space on the shelf, I had to move another dusty box which obviously had not been moved for some time.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I had to open it, after carefully clearing the dust from the top of the lid.

 It was the photograph album of Jean and my wedding in 1969 and I could not resist the temptation to turn each page and view this slice of my history.

The photographs are all in black and white, I am sure it cost extra to have colour, and consist of the usual regimented poses for weddings at that time.

I was amazed as to how little I have changed.

With the exception of losing most of my hair and what is left has changed colour, growing a beard, more than doubling my body weight, appearing to have lost two or three inches,     (50 to 75mm) in height, and now having a multitude of facial lines around my eyes and across my forehead which are not apparent on the photograph, I don’t seem to have changed at all.

Jean looks resplendent in a pencil style wedding dress and the bride’s maids look equally glamorous in their coordinated dresses.

All the men are wearing Top Hat and Tails and look very smart, but unfortunately there was a problem when allocating the suits from Moss Bros. and some obviously went to the wrong people. This resulted in my suit being too big so the trousers and jacket sleeves could have been turned up several times, whereas one of the ushers suit was too small with trousers just below the knee and jacket sleeves at the elbow.

Despite this insignificant hitch, I recall that the whole day went extremely well. The sun shone and the weather was warm for May. Dad was happy after previously paying for two daughters weddings; he was relieved to have an easy ride with this one.

However there was one slight issue. Responsibility for arranging the wedding cars traditionally lay with the groom and Jean had a quiet word in my ear prior to the big day, giving me instructions that the cars must not be black, as black cars were for funerals. As I always follow instructions, I specifically requested, ‘Wedding Cars’ from the car hire company, stressing that I did not want, ‘Funeral Cars’.

In my naivety, I was not aware that the difference between wedding and funeral cars came down to white seat covers and white ribbons. The cars were all black Rolls Royce.

I hoped that in the excitement of the day no one would notice.

I was wrong, but Jean and I were married for 43 years so she must have forgiven me.

There are many references to weddings in the Bible. The Old Testament refers to Israel being the Bride to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus used weddings and the wedding ceremony as illustrations to his teaching and preaching. In Mathew 25 we learn to be prepared using the wedding virgins with their lamps as an illustration.

The most recognisable use of a wedding in the scriptures is perhaps the wedding at Cana, (John 2 v 1 – 10) where Jesus turned the water into wine. This is considered to be the first of the miracles that Jesus performed and showed his compassion for the married couple.

It is interesting to note that the first miracle performed by Jesus was totally unnoticed by everyone except Mary Jesus’s mother. The guests never realised that the wine had expired, the host never realised, the servants never realised the water had changed but everyone noticed that the quality of the wine was now the best it could be.

This is illustrative of the Wine of the Kingdom, – saving the best till last.

In the box, in addition to the album, there are other memorabilia of the day including telegrams, (Do we still have telegrams at weddings?), copies of the table settings, invitations and a copy of a magazine called, ‘The Bradford Bystander’, (similar to Derbyshire Life), dated July 1969.

The magazine cost two shillings and six pence, and on the page for weddings there is a photograph of a couple called Mr. D. Turnton who married Miss G. Tintman .

Ah well you can’t have everything.

By the way, did you know that in 1969, you could buy a brand new Vauxhall Viva for £758.10s.6d or a BMW for £2,197.15s. 4d. it’s all in the Bradford Bystander.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 35

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Bill Brown

Bill Brown sat at his desk in the Post Section of United Insurance Ltd. It was exactly 9.0am and he had followed the same routine as he had done on the average day for the past 30 years.

His fingers played with the edges of the letter that lay in front of him on the desk. It was a letter that he had extracted from a plain brown envelope. The envelope was not there when he left the office on the previous evening, but was there this morning when he arrived.

There was a name typed on the front of the envelope and it read, ‘Mr. B. Brown (Post Section).

Bill Brown was a Bill, not a William. His birth certificate read; – First name – Bill.

 Christian name– Brown. Fathers name – Bill Brown. Mothers name – Mary Brown.

Bill’s grandfather was Bill Brown and so was his father, in fact all first born sons of the Brown dynasty were Bill.

No one could describe Bill as being exceptional; he was the epitome of average. He never did anything wrong but paradoxically he did nothing that could be described as brilliant. His school report listed all subjects were average, and this was reflected in his exam results, average.

Leaving school at 15 years old, found him working as an office junior at United Insurance Ltd., where he remained all his working life.

He married Marjorie when he and she were 21 and they purchased a small three bedroomed semi- detached house in a suburban estate on the edge of Leeds, where they still live today. They have two children, a 17 year old son, Bill, and a 15 year old daughter, Susan.  

Bill Brown could be described as an average man, in an average job, with an average family living in an average house, but this morning everything could change.

He had read the letter once and now read it again a second time to make sure he had read it correctly. It didn’t change no matter how many times he read each word.

The letter set out the terms of his redundancy very clearly and concisely.

At 5.0pm Bill turned his Ford Fiesta out of the car park and headed towards home although his mind was elsewhere. What would Marjorie say? How would the children react? What would he do with his life without United Insurance?

Marjorie was very sympathetic, saying, ‘Don’t worry dear. The money is good and I’m sure you will find something else’.

Bill junior smiled and said, ‘Does that mean we can buy a BMW with the money?’

Susan, on the other hand was a little more constructive in her thoughts. ‘We must find you something else to do’ she advised.

Bill appreciated her enthusiasm but he had no experience of practically anything outside the Post Room of United Insurance.

Susan thought for a few minutes contemplating the skills and abilities at her father’s disposal, then, in a burst of a Eureka moment she exclaimed, ‘You can write a book’.

A frown crept across Bill Brown’s forehead as he thought a book about what?

Susan was prepared for his response. ‘You could write a book called, ‘The Average Man’s Guide to Being Average in an Average World’ it would be a best seller’.

There is a line in a song from the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ where the disciples sing, ‘When we retire we can write a gospel and they will all talk about us when we are dead’.

They are reacting to Jesus explaining his destiny and his prophesised journey to the cross.

I don’t believe that Tim Rice wrote these words disrespectfully, but using artistic licence to portray the disciple’s realisation that Jesus was soon to leave them on their own. The events that would soon unfold before their eyes will be so life changing and crucial to God’s creation that they must be written down for posterity.

Each Gospel is written in a different style suitable and relevant for a specific reading audience, Jews, Greeks, Gentiles and everyone.

The disciples knew that they had to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ, not just to a favoured few but to all people, the average person be they Jews, Greeks, Gentiles and everyone.

Let us not forget that the disciples were themselves average people, but through Jesus Christ they redefined the definition to everyone who has ears must hear.

Bill Brown wrote several books including; ‘The average man’s Guide to DIY’; ‘The Average Mans Guide to Home First Aid’, and ‘The Average Mans Guide to Making an Insurance Claim’.

All his books had average success and he sold an average number of copies.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 34

Revelation 3 v 20 – 22

Someone’s Knocking at the Door

After revealing my mother’s infatuation with superstitions in a previous reflection, I now have to admit in indulging in a tradition that has been marinated in superstition for centuries.

Although I have, to the best of my knowledge, no connections with the highlands of Scotland, in fact I can recall only one brief venture over the northern most border on a tourist trip with Jean to Gretna Green, I have, for as long as I can remember celebrated Hogmanay.

This celebration which dates back to pre-Viking days is observed with great vigour in households across Scotland at New Year.

The revelry can last a week and involve such activities as, launching balls of burning straw into the air, burning replica Viking Long Ships , chasing an unfortunate volunteer dressed in an animal skin down the street while beating them with a stick, consuming large amounts of Whiskey and partaking in the first footing ceremony.

It may, or may not, come as a surprise to learn that my involvement in Hogmanay is a very sober variation of the first footing element of the celebration both as a lad and as a responsible adult. For over fifty years Jean and I have celebrated Hogmanay with friends in York, (with the exception of this year).

We always revel in good food and competitive games of Scrabble and Mahjong from where we are led into the lilting voice of Andy Stewart singing, ‘Donald where’s your trousers’,   and other Scottish masterpieces.

At the stroke of midnight the ‘First Footing’ ceremony is initiated.

First Footing is an essential element of the old year climax and the New Year welcome. Unless the ceremony is fulfilled precisely then who knows what bad luck will befall onto the New Year.

You can imagine how my mum would react to that.

First of all, before the midnight hour, someone has to go outside the house. This someone must be male, preferably tall, and dark haired. They must carry with them, a piece of coal, a pinch of salt, a piece of Christmas cake, (other types of fruit cake are available), a silver coin and a dram of Whiskey, (or in our case Tonic Water or Shloer).

When the clock strikes twelve, the first footer is permitted to cross the threshold and re-enter the house bringing their gifts with them. They can then kiss the ladies and shake hands with the gentlemen before joining hands and singing,’ Auld Lang Syne’.  The revelry can then continue until retiring to bed at an earlier time than last year.

The first footing always reminds me of the Bible, Revelations 3 v 20 – 24, along with a painting by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. The painting shows the figure of Jesus Christ holding a lantern and knocking on a closed door.

The door is overgrown and obviously has not been opened for many years. It has no handle on the outside so can only be opened from within.

The picture and the scripture represents each one of us, having Jesus Christ knocking on the door of our lives wishing to come in, but not all will open the door. Despite no response he never gives up and keeps knocking, asking for the door to be opened and his crossing the threshold into our lives. He brings with him not a piece of coal, or a piece of cake, or a silver coin, but light and peace and hope and love.

Jesus will not force his way in, he will not impose himself on the unresponsive. There is no handle on the outside to enable him to open it by himself. He must be invited from within. Verse 22 says, ‘If you have ears then listen to what the spirit says’.

Let Jesus be the first footer over the threshold of your lives, respond to the knocking and open the door, allow him in and let him reside in your heart for all time.   

First Footing does have its problems. I have always been short in stature and light haired so I have never had the responsibility of crossing the threshold. I have to say that considering the weather conditions at midnight in late December the first footer has to endure cold, rain, wind, and often frost and snow so I have never regretted my exclusion from performing this ritual.

A further problem is that as the years slip by it becomes more difficult finding a male member of our little group who has dark hair, – or any hair for that matter.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 33

Psalm 25

Don’t Walk Under a Ladder.

My Mum was fanatically superstitious. I understand that she was quite ill after giving birth to me and certainly suffered from a nervous disposition for most of her life.  She was a heavy smoker, something that undoubtedly was a major contributory factor in her relatively early death, but it was unquestionably a symptom of her nervous state and vulnerability.

All this culminated in a strange cocktail of traditional superstition and her personal made up variations.

Certainty a belief of bad luck when a black cat crossed her path was well known and not unusual along with not walking under ladders, (although actually this is very good advice never mind superstition), but mum invented others that were a bit more obscure.

If, in the process of setting the table, two knives became crossed, they must be uncrossed immediately because crossed knives meant a battle was imminent. Similarly, mum would never stir anything with a knife, because to stir with a knife was to stir up strife.

The colour green was taboo and must be avoided at all costs. I once bought a green van and mum would not even sit in it never mind ride in it. Having anything green would only end in tears.

Items of clothing did not escape the superstitious shadow. If mum dropped a glove, someone else had to pick it up. If mum picked it up it was bad luck and spelt disaster, however, if someone else retrieved the glove then they would be the recipient of a nice surprise. If the glove was blue it had to come true.

I have to admit that if I drop a glove today I am delighted if someone else picks it up blue or any other colour.

On no account should anyone open an umbrella inside the house and if they did, it had to be held upside down, (the umbrella not the person). I am not sure what the penalty for such an act would be, but mum wanted no part in it. Similarly it was woe and thrice woe on anyone who placed a pair of shoes, (even if brand new), on the table.

Spilt salt had to be thrown over the left shoulder so as to blind the devil that was standing behind her, it was usually my dad.

How mum moved around the house also had relevance. She had to touch a particular chair, a specific place on the table and pick up a particular cup in a set order; otherwise her day would be a disaster. It was also tempting fate to enter the house by the back door and leave the house through the front door without first sitting down.

Then there was the piece of string.

The heating for the house and the cooking came from a type of Aga stove in the back room. Across the front of the stove was a handrail from where a piece of string dangled down.

 The string appeared to be nondescript apart from a series of knots along its length similar to a Rosary and mum would sit in her chair next to the stove and play with the string in her fingers which seemed to help her relax. One morning we came downstairs to find that the string had disappeared without trace. No one would own up as to who the culprit was who had severed this piece of physiological well-being, but my brother in law always has a glint in his eye every time the subject is raised, even today. Fortunately mum found a new piece of string and the saga continued.

Psalm 25 has a message that assures us that all superstitions mean nothing and it has no relevance whether we open an umbrella indoors, wear a green jacket or drop a glove, because our protection comes from God. Whatever happens in this world we must put our trust in God and we will be protected, guided and God’s love will be poured over us. His kindness and compassion will be with us as it always has been throughout all time, (v 4 – 7)

We can turn to the Lord at all times for help and he will rescue us from all evil. We can ask for mercy and he will be merciful, (v 15-17), we can ask for compassion and we will be relieved from loneliness and all our worries.

In these times of the COVID pandemic it is easy for us to become depressed and let the stress of the situation overcome our thoughts and lives, but God’s words through the Psalmist ring true and give hope and strength to those who trust in God.

Although I do not share my mum’s fear of superstition, I still walk very carefully along paved footpaths because we all know that if we tread in a nick we will marry a brick and a beetle will come to the wedding. ?????

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 32

Luke 2 v 1 – 5

The First Noel

I am reclining in my conservatory with the log burner blazing away listening to my radio. The newscaster is telling us of the slight relaxation to the COVID restrictions that will be introduced over the Christmas period. The radio announcer came on and proclaimed that it would be a different Christmas this year, not the usual festive experience that we are accustomed to. His statement left me a little puzzled because the festive experience has been a gradual change for me as years have gone by. Recent festive experiences are a far cry from those when I was 6 or 7 years old in the mid 1950’s.

To ascertain just how different, I telephoned my two sisters, (both are older than me), and had a long conversation with each of them about our recollections of Christmas past.

It would start when dad brought down the boxes of Christmas decorations from the loft. We had the same artificial Christmas tree for years. I think mum and dad bought it before any of the children were born and it was still being brought out in the 1960s.

The tree was a brown and green twisted wire sculpture with green paper pine needles and a red dot at the end of the branches. As the wire branches were folded up to go into storage, when they were unfolded the tree took on an irregular shape with its boughs pointing in different directions. The tree decorations were a little unusual, a toy car, (a Jowett Javelin bought the year I was born), a battered and forlorn fairy on the top, and a selection of home- made paper lanterns and paper chains.

The room decorations were also ancient and came out every year. They were paper and folded up like a concertina then opened to span from the light in the centre of the room to the four corners. Some opened into a ball and they dangled down from the light.

Christmas dinner was always exciting and special. Dad had a secret admirer who, every year, left a turkey or Capon (a large chicken) on our front doorstep. We never did discover who it was.

Dad would take it down to the cellar where it was cooler until mum could prepare it. My sister recalled that one year there was a commotion in the cellar because the bird was not dead and woke up to run round and make a fuss. It still appeared on the table on Christmas Day.

The turkeys were not dressed or oven ready prepared, they came complete with heads, feet and feathers. Mum would sit in the back room with a blanket on the floor and spend hours plucking the feathers off the bird and burning the stubble off with a candle. I don’t believe that mum could cut the head and legs off so I assume dad must have done that.

Christmas Day was special and magical. We would all congregate on mum and dad’s bed and have a sock and a pillar case. In the sock there would be an apple, an orange, some nuts and a sixpence, (half a shilling or two and a half pence), and in the pillar case would be our presents, some bought and some home made by mum and dad. Any larger presents were left by Santa downstairs. I would charge downstairs to see if Santa had eaten the mince pie I left for him the night before and sure enough, only the crumbs remained.

We always had to have something new to wear on Christmas Day. My sisters had a new dress or skirt and blouse often made by mum and I would have new trousers or shirt. We had to look smart on Christmas Day even if we didn’t go out anywhere.

Then dad would light a fire in the front room, possibly the only time a fire was lit in there, and the house would start to smell of cooking as mum prepared dinner which was always great. There was always great excitement when we got to the Christmas pudding. Who would get the sixpence wrapped in greaseproof paper hidden in the white sauce? I think we all got one.

The one thing that has never changed and will not change even with COVD restrictions is that Jesus Christ came into our world to save us from our sin and offer us everlasting life.

It is not important if the tree changes, or if the decorations festooned across the room are different, or if the illuminations in the garden are more or less extravagant than last year. It’s not even important if the presents reach Santa via Amazon or the internet.

What is important is that the child born in the stable, into poverty, a King humbled from a palace into a manger, will grow into the saviour of the world. This is the good news that Christmas brings.

Perhaps next year we will be able to resume the festive experiences that we are accustomed but let’s not forget that which never changes.

The turkey or Capon was delivered anonymously for about four or five years, then suddenly stopped. Perhaps the sender realised they had got the wrong address.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 31

Luke 2 v 1 – 7

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men.

Robert Burns, the eminent Scottish poet wrote; – ‘The best laid schemes o mice and men gang aft agley,’ He was writing a poem about a mouse at the time but his sentiment is as true as it can get. No matter how best we plan, our schemes are often thrown into chaos by the unexpected.

My wife Jean and I planned our move from Bradford to Derby in 1973 with meticulous precision, or so we thought. I had successfully negotiated the interview for the new job, Jean and I had visited Derby to look around the town and the surrounding area, we had even attracted a buyer for our house in Bradford and everything was going to plan.

The arrangement with my new employer was that temporary accommodation in the form of a local authority house would be available for six months when I commenced my duties. One week prior to my commencement we received a telephone call to say that the accommodation was not available.

We quickly made the journey to Derby and fortunately managed to secure a bed and breakfast accommodation in a house on Duffield Road, just outside the City Centre. For the next six weeks Jean lived at home in Bradford and I enjoyed bed and breakfast accommodation in Derby. Eventually all was well and we bought our own house where I still live today.

From the start we naively thought that it would be a simple process moving about 100 miles south from Bradford to the Midlands but we quickly realised that life is not that easy. The spoken word changes in that short distance and somethings have a different meaning which makes every day routines challenging. A visit to the Bakers for example, I requested a selection of buns and was presented with rolls of bread. What I should have asked for was ‘little cakes’.  Spuds became potatoes and an alley between houses changed from a snicket into a ginnel.

Suddenly I grew feathers and became a ‘duck’ and on a visit to the next town of Ilkeston I became a ‘youth’. In Bradford everyone was ‘luv’, a habit I had to get out of when working for a politically correct Local Authority.

I’m not sure what the local builders made of my Yorkshire accent, as words like ‘so’ and ‘door’ usually raised a laugh at my expense.

The views on gastronomic preferences also raised many eye brows. Someone described me as being ‘strange ’as we ate cheese with our Christmas cake and mince pies, and the fact that we ate our Yorkshire Puddings before the main course of our meal bordered on insanity.

Just when we thought that we were back on our plan, Jean and I discovered that we were having our second child. What did Robert Burns say about the best laid schemes of mice and men?

I bet Mary and Joseph and their respective families had everything planned for the marriage of their son and daughter. In those days marriage had two stages, betrothal and the wedding, each stage having its own ceremony and celebration. The Bible tells us that Mary and Joseph were betrothed so had gone through the first celebration and excitement was building towards the wedding.

It was at this stage when the plans started to go wrong. Mary was expecting a child and it took God’s intervention to persuade Joseph to continue with the marriage. Then just when the new plan was in place, who could foretell that Herod would declare a census. Well actually the prophets of the Old Testament foretold it.

The journey to Bethlehem was not part of the plan, and not being able to find accommodation had not been thought out. Certainly giving birth to Jesus in a stable was never envisaged a few months earlier.

The chaos did not stop there, the shepherds visit was not on the agenda and neither was the subsequent evacuation to Egypt to keep the young child safe.

Mary and Joseph must have thought, ‘What next?

No doubt Robert Burns was correct about the best laid schemes of mice and men, but perhaps we should look to the plans that God lays out for us all, those plans that never go array.

God’s plan for Mary, Joseph and Jesus were written centuries before and we know that his plan led to our salvation through Jesus’s death and resurrection.

I wonder if when our plans go wrong, it could be that God is making corrections on our behalf. Perhaps the direction of our planned journey would take us to the wrong place and God redirects us to where he wants us to be rather than where we think we would like to be.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 30

Genesis 11 v 1-9: Luke 14 v 2 – 30:                Joshua 2 v 14 – 15

Another Brick in the Wall

My next door neighbour is having extensive building work carried out to his house. Part of the work involves a two storey extension that abuts my drive; consequently, I have had a perfect view of all aspects of the work as it has progressed.

Having a heritage of building construction, including being a bricklayer myself in a past life, I find all aspects of construction fascinating so I have thoroughly enjoyed the past few weeks monitoring the progress of the work from foundations to roof.

There are so many theological and scriptural parallels interwoven in constructional practices.

If individual bricks are stacked one on top of another it is not long before the stack becomes unstable and falls over. However, if the bricks are interlocked, as in a dry stone wall, the structure is many times stronger. Include a mortar bed and joint and the wall is almost indestructible. If we try to work on our own we are limited in our achievements, if we work together in harmony with others we can achieve great things, if we enfold ourselves in the Holy Spirit and work together we can achieve anything.

As my neighbour’s wall began to rise, it reached a point where the builder’s legs were far too short, a problem that I experience often, and a scaffold was required to enable the work to continue. In an attempt to make the builder’s life a little easier I gave my permission for the scaffold to be erected on my drive, so one day, very early in the morning, a team of scaffolding erectors arrived and erected their steel poles in a vertical, horizontal and diagonal formation that created a work of art compatible to any Renaissance sculpture or artistic work, towering high into the atmosphere, well, up to the uppermost point of the gable end.

Genesis 11 v 1 – 9, describes how the descendants of Noah built a City that had a tower so high that it reached into the heavens. It was made from bricks and tar and was an incredible achievement. I wonder what their scaffolding looked like. When God saw what they had achieved he thought they were too clever, so he mixed the languages that they spoke to make it more difficult, and scattered the nations across the world. That’s why builders speak a different language to anyone else.

As my neighbour’s scaffold and walls grew, so the work became more complicated, involving lintels over door and window openings, thermal insulation in the cavity walls floor joists and roof construction and much more. I began to realise that the financial costs of the work were increasing by the day and it made me think of Luke 14 v 24 – 30. Jesus was describing the cost of being a disciple and pointing out that no one should embark on a life with Christ without total commitment. No one should start to build a tower without first working out the cost or he may not be able to complete the work.

I hope my neighbour has worked out the cost. I’m sure he has.

The problem with a high scaffold is that it is a long way to climb to the top and difficult to carry materials such as bricks and mortar to enable the work to continue.

To overcome this problem the builder has installed an electrically powered hoist that can lift and lower materials in a plastic tub. Unfortunately he still has to climb the ladder but the heavy materials can be lifted by the hoist.

It reminded me of Joshua 2 v 14 – 15. Joshua sent two spies into the City of Jericho to collect inside information. While they were there they had to hide from the king’s soldiers in a house owned by a woman called Rahab who enabled the spies to escape by lowering them down to the ground from a bedroom window in a basket attached to a rope. I can’t help thinking it would have been a lot more difficult lowering two men in a basket at the end of a rope than it is for my builder using an electrically powered hoist.

In return for her help and assistance, Rahab was saved by God when the City of Jericho fell. She tied a red chord to the very window that the spies escaped from and she, and her family, was saved from destruction.

I asked my neighbour if the scaffolding would still be on my drive over the Christmas period and if so we could festoon festive lights on it and have a nativity scene underneath to compete with other illuminated gardens along our road.

Sadly he informed me that if all goes to plan the scaffold structure would be removed before Christmas.  

Ah well, I will have to find some other source of excitement during the COVID restrictions.

All this goes to prove that no matter what we see around us every day of our lives, we can relate to the Bible and that God is with us in everything that we see.

Derek T.

Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 29

Matthew 6 v 28 – 30

From the Ashes of Disaster Grow the Roses of Success.

I picked up a leaflet recently; well it was more a booklet than a leaflet, published by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It was dated summer 2020, and had obviously been written shortly after the first COVID lockdown had been relaxed.

I have to say that the information contained within the pages of the booklet was interesting and inspiring, describing the work of the Trust, their successes and their concerns for our natural environment and the state of our local wildlife.

One particular article caught my attention. It related to the state of the natural environment during the lockdown period. Prior to the COVID pandemic the threat to many of our wildlife species had been made painfully clear and scientists and naturalists have pointed the finger of blame on the lifestyle of all of us. However, although the crisis and the lockdown has for many been a traumatic and near disastrous experience, it would appear that in many ways the natural environment including our wildlife have thrived.

Lockdown forced us to stay at home, use our cars less, cycle more, and walk more and to stop flying to far off destinations. Believe it or not these changes have seen a measurable positive impact on our air quality and a reduction in atmospheric pollution.

Experts now tell us that due to lockdown, our air is fresher, fish have returned to many of our waterways, and birdsong is now louder and more vibrant, (Jo Smith Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)

The imposed, ‘stay at home’ culture has resulted in other advantages for our wildlife, such as grass verges not being cut, and road side hedgerows being left to overgrow providing a much needed haven for small mammals and insects. A noticeable influx of natural wild flowers and fauna in the hedgerows has provided of explosion of colour along many of our country lanes and across our fields.

All this is good news for our natural environment but it is also proving to be good news for us. Evidence has shown that cycling and walking in the countryside is beneficial to our mental health in addition to our physical fitness. Walking around a lakeside or following a stream or watercourse is known to have a calming effect on our stress levels and even listening to birdsong has proved to help reduce the cares and concerns of everyday life. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to parkland or countryside locations will also have greater opportunities to observe wildlife species perhaps not usually seen.

I am blessed that I live adjacent to a large area of countryside and parkland, and I regularly take myself off to walk across the fields, stop for coffee at a local farm tea rooms, (when COVID permits) and return home via a circular route. In recent weeks I have sighted Buzzards, Herons, ground and tree mammals, and the annual arrival and departure of the squadron of Canada Geese as they, in chevron formation, noisily pass over my house.

 I can disclose that there have been many sermons mentally written while I have been immersed in the tranquillity of this alternative world.

The natural environment is an essential ingredient to the well- being of our physical and mental health, our spiritual fulfilment and our ability to cope with situations beyond our comprehension.

During this COVID crisis it is understandable that there are some people who are depressed and worried not just about the present situation but also about the future and it is natural that we concentrate on the negative aspects of the situation. However, the message we receive from Matthew 6 v 28 – 30 is clear, God will never desert us, never leave us on our own and will never reject us.

As God blankets the hedgerows with colour and beauty, and as he brings life back to the barren ground, so will he clothe us with so much more. We will emerge from the darkness of the COVID crises and we will feel the warmth of God’s love poured over us.

From this crisis perhaps there will be a long lasting transformational change in our relationship with nature and through that change we will experience further the love and strength of our gracious God.

Many years ago when I worked in Nottingham, I sometimes used an underpass, (now filled in), which tunnelled under Maid Marion Way. It was dark, unpleasant and often had a revolting smell. Half way along its length it crossed a second underpass and at the junction there was a small kiosk selling newspapers and soft drinks. Sometimes they also had a few cut flowers in metal containers outside for sale. It was a temporary haven in the middle of a dark unpleasant journey, an oasis of colour and hope.

Warning

Take care, if we return to business as usual at some point in time, will it spell the end of the wildlife revolution or will it start a new era of nature’s rule?

Derek T.