Paul's parents and brother came down to spend the new year with us. They live in Greenwich, and we didn't think that trying to drive into Greenwich on New Year's Eve was a bright move, so they came down to us instead.
We drove down into Bristol and saw the early evening fireworks at 9 o'clock. Very spectacular. Massive crowds, but very well behaved. Then home, and at midnight Sue, Paul, Ian and Roger - Paul's brother - went out to look at the fireworks.
They were all aroound us. We must have been able to see four or five major displays, plus numerous smaller shows, and they went on for twenty minutes or so - a long time at that late hour. We thought we could see a bonfire on the banmks of the Trym, further down stream. But when we got closer, it turned out to be a car on fire - which explained the sudden appearance of the fire engine.
Steve went on Wednesday to spend Christmas with his parents, so we were left alone in the house. The Snowball students (the three who didn't go home for Christmas) has been invited to a local family, so we didn't have anyone with us on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve, Paul and the boys walked round to the two Slovak students with a couple of boxes of chocolates for them - it was the best excuse to get them out of the house to let off some energy. The rain came down in torrents, and by the time we got home we were as wet as I have ever been outside a swimming pool. Still, it encouraged the boys to run.
On Boxing Day, Sue's sister Pip and her family came round after lunch, and we all had an enjoyable and varied time together. the boys enjoyed showing their cousins how to build a 'droid' on the latest computer game they had received for Christmas, and the guitar even came out for a little while.
The news from the Crisis Centre as of Friday is that the man I prayed for the previous week is still off the drink, and going on with the Lord. Please keep praying for him.
Thinking about it, there are a few other things to say about that evening. I took the two students out on the street after praying for this chap. It was cold and wet, and we didn't find anyone to give any tracts to, apart from the couple who we brought back to the Centre. I chatted to them a bit, and in the breaks in the conversation prayed for them and the first man.
Two or three times that evening, he looked across to me, and said, "You're praying for me again - I can feel it." That was good - a nice, gentle, ongoing confirmation of what our Father had started to do in his life.
Less easy to cope with was the way he said, "You must be a really holy person." Simply denying it didn't make any difference, but it was a useful open door to explaining that God answers our prayers because He loves us, not because we are very good. The wonder is that God uses really ordinary people - we know this in our heads, but there is nothing like wonderfully answered prayer to help us feel how totally unworthy we are.
Our car, stolen at the end of November, was returned by the garage today. We had been trying to contact them for most of this week, to find out when it was due to be fixed, so this came as a pleasant surprise. Very little has been stolen from the car, which is also a very nice surprise - the road atlas, sunglasses and jump leads were all still there. So were a number of items in the glove compartment, including a pound coin. It could have been much worse, and we are very grateful for that.
I (Paul) took two of the students to the Bristol Crisis Centre tonight, as part of their 'work experience'. We went out into Bristol and brought a homeless couple back to the Centre for the first hot meal they have had since arriving in Bristol several days ago.
Earlier in the evening, I had started talking with another man, about my age, in the Centre. It turned out he was an alcoholic (no surprise there) wanting to get his life together again. I won't go into all his personal details, but it wasn't good. His sister, a Christian, worked at the Centre, and he had arranged to stay with her and her husband from tonight. One of the staff who knew him a bit asked if he would like us to pray for him. He agreed, and three of us went downstairs to pray.
I was asked to pray for this man, and as I prayed the Holy Spirit came upon him. As he described it afterwards, he felt a strange tingling sensation come down on him, and he opened his life up to God. Tears were running down his cheeks. We talked and prayed a bit more. He was so overjoyed to discover that God is real, that God loves him, and was present in his life. We discovered that one of the other men present happens to live near this man's sister, so he arranged for the pair of them to go to church together on Sunday.
I don't want to make too much of this. I didn't explain the gospel to him as fully as I would have wished, and while he was not drunk, some, maybe most of the emotion will have been produced by the alcohol he has been living on for too long. But despite that, I know that God stepped into his life and experience and did something - whether he was fully born again, or just brought much closer to the Kingdom, only time will tell. But please pray for him. Whatever happened, his life is not going to be easy over the next few months.
Sue's job is proving to be as challenging as anticipated. However, the people there are supportive and encouraging, which helps enormously.
Paul and Steve are coping with the boys in Sue's absence, adn the boys are coping with being looked after by Paul and Steve. This new arrangement takes some getting used to, by all concerned.
The Snowball puppet tour round the local schools is going well, and proving to be very popular. Unfortunately, two of the students have been sick since the weekend, so Rob is talking part, and on Monday Traci joined the team to make up the numbers. She managed this without having taken part in any of the rehersals - a true professional! On Monday afternoon, the show was re-worked so that it could be performed by three people.
Please pray for the two students, that they be restored to full health quickly.
This morning, Sue started work at Knightstone. Very apprehensive about what the challenge will bring.
In the afternoon, returning from St Edyths after a Snowball training session, Paul noticed that our red Cavalier was not outside the house. After phoning several people to check it had not been borrowed, he notified the police, to discover it had already been found illegally parked and taken to the car pound.
There followed a lengthy period on the telephone talking to all the interested parties. This was not made any easier by the telephone company progressively disconnecting the lines to the house in mid-conversation, so the final calls were made on Steve's mobile.
Sue reported later that having her car stolen certainly got her the sympathy vote on her first day at work. We are told by the people at the car pound that one door is badly damaged and the ignition wiring has been pulled out - probably not a surprise - but in general it had been better treated than many they see.
The men from the cable company came round today to sort out our phones. The wrong numbers are on the wrong lines, and they did not come prepared to install the new line we need. Steve spends a long time explaining what we want and what they agreed to do, in words of one syllable. We think they understood.
The computers were moved today, so we are 'here' both physically and electronically. The boys are relieved they can play some computer games again.
One of the telephone lines coming into the house went dead this morning. The number is still ringing, but we don't know where and nobody answers. The telephone men are coming round tomorrow afternoon to sort the phones out, so this should not be a problem for long.
The pink caravan - the Europe Now office - moved from 168 to Abbeywood today. It is sitting on the patio. I am told it was quite a monumental struggle to get the thing up our steep drive, but as today was a Thursday I was working for the eXchange in Gloucester and missed all the fun.
Paul's parents come down to visit for a few days. We have been solidly clearing and sorting, emptying boxes and putting things away for weeks now, and it still seems like we have boxes everywhere. And we still have to move the computers, lots of books and other assorted items from 168.
The idea is that Paul's Dad will be able to dismantle the garden shed panels we moved from Guildford, move them to Abbeywood, and put them together again. Opinions are divided on whether the remains of the shed are up to this treatment.
The other half of the store was cleared today, so we no longer have that additional expense. And once our items were all moved in, Steve Poulard and his parents started moving in all his stuff from the big van they had driven down. The house looks a lot fuller than it did yesterday. Boxes everywhere, and we can't work out how to organise the kitchen...
Steve's parents very much like the house - they are much more enthusiastic about it than Steve, who does not get very excited about bricks and mortar.
The first proper load of items from the store came last Friday when Sue spent the day with two removal men and a van. Since then, Paul has done several more trips with the car. The removal men are booked again tomorrow, and we hope to empty the store then. One less ongoing expense!
We have worked out who will get which rooms, at least for the next few months. Alan is not impressed at getting the smallest bedroom, but he will be on his own, it won't be used to store lots of other things, and it is bigger than his previous bedroom - so we think it's a fair deal. But it looks at the moment like we will have next to no furniture for the family lounge. Trips to the local second-hand shops are being planned.
About half the items in store were moved. So we need to do lots of unpacking boxes and sorting before the second half is moved.
We have just heard that the first house we looked at in Bristol (which is now owned by our new Housegroup Leaders) is quite a mess under the floorboards and behind the pannels on some walls, and causing the new owners much more work than they anticipated, and...
... the house in St Edyth's Road - the one where we were gazumped - has wet rot downstairs. Major problems. The new owners have not moved in yet. It did not seem so at the time, but God certainly knew what He was doing when He stopped us buying it! And we must confess to a certain quiet satisfied feeling that poetic justice has been done, after all.
We have cleaned Abbeywood, with some help from the Snowball students, and Sue has booked a couple of men with a van to shift stuff from storage tomorrow. We don't know how much they will manage, or how long it will take to move everything out of storage and the rest of Steve's and our bits from the current house.
Sue has been offered a job. 'Team Supervisor' for Knightstone, a Housing Association - it seems like quite a pressured and responsible job (not really what we were looking for) but the hours are good, the pay is reasonable and they work flexitime. Sue talks to Val, who says a job in the hand is worth ten in the bush, so we decide she should accept it.
The job interview was in the morning, and they phoned with the offer while Sue was taking Ian to his violin lesson in the car. Ian answered the phone in a very professional way - it must run in the family!
Sue is now very shell-shocked, and wondering how she will cope with being a full time employee again.
Abbeywood is ours at last. Again, today, it was quite late in the afternoon that we received confirmation that the purchase was complete and we could collect the keys. It seems that packing took the previous owners more time than they had expected. It hardly seems possible after all this time.
Now the fun bit starts. We have not yet decided who will have which rooms, apart from Steve having the attic, and Paul & Sue having one of the two larger bedrooms. The previous owners had a dog, so we need to clean thoroughly before we move in, or Paul will not be able to breathe.
Paul does his first full day with Europe Now, working with the students on the Snowball training. The subject is 'Creation' - a nice easy one to get started with...
We have exchanged contracts! We complete on the purchase of Abbeywood on Monday 8 November. The money went off to the solicitor in time, after all, but it seemed the effort had been wasted: there was still some hold-up at the other end. But we heard around 4:30 in the afternoon that the final piece had fallen into place.
It has suddenly become urgent. Next Monday is really the target! We need to get the money organised in a hurry. I arrange for a CHAPS payment to go to the solicitor on Friday, but Tesco can't promise the money will be in the account before the end of the day on Friday, which would mean everything needs to happen Monday morning.
It appears our vendors have received the formal mortgage offer, but there is some other minor detail which prevents them from exchanging contracts. The estate agents say there is 'nothing to worry about' and we can still complete next Monday, but our solicitor says their solicitor is showing no sign of any urgency.
The eXchange have not found anyone to replace Paul yet - can he work part time on a temporary basis? After consulting and praying with the church leadership at Highgrove and with the folk at Europe Now, it seems this is the right thing to do. It will give us a bit longer to raise the support we need, and the Snowball programme can be made to fit without too much difficulty.
We have a letter from the neighbour confirming the position of the boundary. The solicitor says this could still be the subject of a dispute, and is asking the Land Registry to note the boundary when they update the title. But our vendors still cannot exchange.
The Land Registry agree with us: the boundary is wrong on their plans, and the plans for next door show the boundary away from Abbeywood. We still don't know where the boundary is, but this is enough progress to go ahead.
Unfortunately, there is a 'minor delay' in getting the formal mortgage offer to our vendors. It's just a technicality and 'nothing to worry about'. Except that this is what we were told about our first failed sale in Guildford. The offer should come through any day now, so we hope to exchange by the end of this week and complete on Monday 8 November.
Another pile of papers from the solicitor through the door yesterday. The boundary question is not sorted out yet - clarification is being sought from Land Registry. No estimate of how long this will take.
The estate agent says our vendors are only waiting for their mortgage offer in writing, which should arrive by the end of this week or early next week. So it is possible we might exchange contracts on Wednesday 27 October, and move on Friday 5 November.
Several phone calls to the estate agent, but no information from them about any progress with our vendors' purchase.
Paul handed in his resignation to the eXchange. Last day working in Gloucester, some time w/c 8 November.
Another visit to the solicitor this morning. Most of the paperwork looks fine, but there is a real question about the location of the South West boundary. And the property on that side is in the process of being sold.
This morning, a fat package arrives from our solicitor: more paperwork to read, check and sign. According to the estate agent, the people we are buying from are trying to purchase an empty property - so there is no chain, thank goodness! - and the survey on it is due to be done this week. Once that is complete, their mortgage application can be processed - assuming no serious problems are identified.