We started writing this letter during December 1996, when it was not entirely clear whether we were ahead of ourselves or woefully behind. No, it was nothing personal: we quite failed to send a letter anywhere near Christmas 1995 ...
Ian, now 4¾, has progressed from mornings at Shepherds Hill Nursery School to being a full-timer in the Reception class at Westborough. (We knew it was right to move him on from Nursery this September, and had the choice of a part-time or full- time place. We chose part-time, but could not persuade Ian of the wisdom of this.) He enjoys school, and has made lots of new friends, mostly girls. He also enjoys staying on for the Westy Club at least once each week, and gets very cross if he is left out of anything. On Saturdays he attends ballet lessons, and is very keen to start tap. He can't wait to join Beavers!
Philip has just turned 7, and is in Year 2 at Westborough. His reading is exceptional - all the Narnia books were devoured, initially on the grounds that anything Alan could read, he could read too, but soon with great enjoyment. He is also quite good at Maths. He is very enthusiastic about everything, and joins all the after-school and lunch-time clubs on offer each term: these have included chess, football, recorders, cooking, story/library and gym. He has a few girls among his friends, including one from the top class! He has joined the Beaver Colony where Alan went and enjoys this, even though he knew very few of the boys there. Last year he passed his RAD Primary Ballet exam with Distinction, and his ISTD Pre-Primary Tap with Commended, although he gets very bashful about these and does not want anyone to be told (not even Daddy!)
Alan is now 9½, and is in Year 5 at St Joseph's RC Junior School (oh, no, next year we have to worry about changing schools!). He is far too grown up to like school (although he does well there) or have girl friends. He has a select number of friends, and has suffered some sadness at finding that one friend's parents do not get on with another friend's parents and would prefer them not to play together. He has given up both dance and drama, and does not sing, make music, or do anything else artistic, although this is not from lack of aptitude. His favourite activities are sticking his nose in a book, making fantastic lego models, playing computer games or writing fantasy role playing games on the computer. He generally does these one at a time. There are far fewer after-school activities available to him, but he enjoys going to the Westy Club, and is very keen on Cubs, where he has gained his Computer, Book Reader, First Aid and World Conservation badges.
Paul is still working at the Insurance Trading Exchange, and has recently been given some new responsibility for Quality Assurance - just what this will mean in practice is still not clear. At the start of this year he had the new job plus four others, so was still leaving early and coming home late. When The Exchange ran out of office space he had almost a year working in Guildford - just the other side of Stoke Park, and close enough to walk, which he managed occasionally. The 'Guildford' office has now been moved to the centre of Woking, which is more convenient than the main site on the outskirts, and he has joined up again with the Thursday lunchtime prayer and Bible Study meeting based in the centre of Woking.
Most of Paul's 'spare' time is spent on activities related to Europe Now, of which he is the Secretary and a Trustee. This is a missionary organization set up to support missionaries from OAC ('Open Air Campaigners') working in Europe. They do an incredible job, and if anyone would like to receive the quarterly newsletter 'Borderlines' or thinks their Church would like to hear about an organisation doing some really interesting work in Europe, do let us know! Paul also has regular invitations to preach at three Churches. He is still the Treasurer of the Mission Board, but our friend Steph has taken over the job of Mission Board Secretary which he was finding very difficult to cope with.
Some of you may have seen a couple of letters from Paul in the computer press, and he has had a few articles published in the Journal of the Institute of Analysts and Programmers. He has ideas about further articles, but not enough time to do anything with them.
Paul has been allowed to go away several times, too: visiting our missionary friends Richard & Margaret Kemp and Mark & Sue Howe in the South of France (and the Kemps also in Scotland), again to the South of France for the OAC Zone conference and to Heathrow and Belgium for the OAC International Conference, which happens every four years. Both conferences were very important for the future work of Europe Now.
Paul will be 40 in June, is looking forward to life beginning, and wonders if he will have any more time to play Go. Attendance at the local Go Club has been very sporadic, so progress has been slow, and the only Tournament he managed to attend was that organised by his local Club. He still manages to swim before work once or twice a week.
Sue works 2-3 days each week at the National Resource Centre for Dance, still doing data entry, but also a lot of proof- reading these days. The last 13 years of her working life are about to be immortalised on CD-Rom, and it would be nice if the early years were of the same high standard as the later years. This is easier said than done: the first issue of the Dance Current Awareness Bulletin was produced on an electric typewriter; the next five on a computer which had no hard disc drive, using a word processing program with no sort facility. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we have not had to re-type these issues, but there is still a lot of checking to be done. One day a week is still spent at church, typing minutes, bits of the Newsletter, checking post sent to the Manse etc etc etc. Since Ian started school she has also spent one morning a week listening to Year 1 children read: an interesting experience!
At church Sue serves on the Management Committee and preaches very occasionally. And in her 'spare' time she has helped to set up The Westy Club, which offers after-school childcare to local primary schools. She tries not to work at the Club, which employs Playworkers, but the background administration, fund-raising, advertising, PR, book-keeping etc takes up far more time than it should, even with a very supportive committee. This has been running for five terms now, and we keep hoping the workload will ease off, but it hasn't happened yet. Just for fun, Sue has tried Keep Fit, but the class folded after about year, and she hasn't found another at a suitable level and convenient time. Now she goes to a French Adult Education class once a week. And for 18 months she has been using a bike to get to and from work. Before everyone thinks she is Superwoman, Sue has a cleaning lady every three weeks or so, and it is only when Alison has been that the house is fit to be seen.
Paul and Sue have a few joint activities. As we said two years ago, our Church Hut and Hall are in desperate need of replacement, and we are still both on the Building Committee, Paul as the Treasurer. The committee has involved a lot more activity this year with visits to recent buildings, meetings with potential Architects, working on draft plans, and preparing publicity for people in the Church and wider afield. The other main joint activity, the Housegroup which we had belonged to for a good few years, was re-organised over the Summer, and after a gap of several months without one (the first in our married life!) we are now part of a new Housegroup.
The exciting news at church is that we have a new minister coming at Easter, after a vacancy of nearly two years. David Bedford comes to us from Hastings, and was the minister at Newham when one of our previous ministers moved there, so he has some idea what he is taking on as a group of churches. We are looking forward to David's arrival, which we do not expect will not make things any easier, just different.
During 1995 we spent a weekend with Mike and Liz Cooke, which enabled us to attend Kate Loft-Simpson's wedding to Munir Din. We enjoyed meeting Justine and George and appreciated Justine's acceptance of 'all boys' in the visiting family. In the summer we spent a very enjoyable week in a Methodist Holiday Hotel at Hastings, with Paul's parents joining in the fun.
That Autumn, we also stayed with Dave and Janet Carter in Oadby. It's a small world: Paul was at University with Dave, and they were living just round the corner from Paul and Sue Cockburn, who were at University with Sue. T'other Paul and Sue were celebrating their wedding anniversary with a reunion of their University friends, but there's a limit to the number of bodies who can be accommodated in a Methodist Manse, and it was a good excuse to meet Janet, Jennifer and Gareth.
We were very intrepid at the 1996 Spring half-term and went to France. We joined Mark and Sue Howe in a gîte about an hour's drive from Eurodisney. And yes, we went, and yes, it was quite good, but it was very expensive, and we didn't have time to do it all in one day, and the grown-ups couldn't look at the really interesting bits because the children were too desperate to go on the next ride. We also 'did' Paris by going to the top of L'Arche de la Defense and the top of the Eiffel Tower: no time for more! Mark had this theory that you could walk from one to the other, but we declined to prove it.
There have been fewer family weekends away in 1996, but Sue went to stay with Val in Whitley Bay for a weekend all by herself. It was bliss. We took the whole family at the Autumn half-term, and Val says we can go again, which proves the boys are quite civilised when they choose.
There's no doubt about our best outings this year. We are quite close to Legoland, Windsor, and this was Alan's choice for his birthday treat. Cheaper and more fun than Eurodisney! There may not be enough white knuckle rides for teenagers who like that kind of thing, but we rave about the place. We went again in October, and are planning to buy season tickets for 1997.
Sue and the boys also spent a day in London, seeing the sights from the top of a bus and 'doing' the Tower of London with Rob, an Australian Open Air Campaigner, in tow. We had a lovely day, and don't think he will forget his visit either.
For his birthday treat Philip chose to go to Snow White at our local theatre, starring Anita Dobson and Bill Maynard. All the children enjoyed it, and we have just found out who these people are. (Yes, we are still a TV-free household!) Ian had a party at Supercreche, which is less memorable, but he enjoyed it.
We seem to have made it to a few films: Independence Day, The President, 101 Dalmatians (both versions), Babe, The Santa Clause, and the Lion King - not all en famille, but all enjoyed. We also saw An Ideal Husband (Shaw) in London: this was Paul's parents' Ruby Wedding Celebration, for which they arrived all unsuspecting, expecting to meet just us and finding that Roger and several of their friends also seemed to have tickets ...
On the home front, we have finally had the boys' two bedrooms decorated, and the tiles in the kitchen stuck up. We have not yet moved all the furniture to its final destinations (will we ever?), but we can now accommodate visitors with less upheaval.
Our families remain mostly well. Paul's parents spent six weeks in New Zealand, visiting relatives, returning early in December fit and well. We enjoyed seeing both sets of parents at Christmas and through the year. Paul's father has taken up golf, but failed to tempt Paul to join him in six inches of snow ... Paul's mother has retired from Guiding with a mixture of regret and relief! Paul's brother Roger has changed jobs, from a small insurance company to Burberry's (as in the posh coats, which no, he can't afford). He should be sainted for his patience with the boys. At Christmas Sue also managed to see her Uncle Phil, whose health is not good, and her Aunty Dorothy and cousin Alan from Chesterfield. New Year should have been spent with Sue's sister Pip, but she was recovering from a bad cold and felt unable to cope with six boys - her three range from 2 to 6. Ray and Diana are still in Oxford; Mike and Barbara in Stalybridge; and Peter and Jo in Eckington, although Peter is currently working in Cambridge so stays there during the week. They are trying to sell their house, but it isn't proving very easy.
We have bought a 'new' computer: a secondhand Archimedes 440. We still have two old ones, and if we seem to have lost your latest address, blame the computer! When we started typing this letter we also tried to transfer our address list from the NorthStar, but failed, so Sue re-typed it from our manual records. The wonders of modern technology! We do not (yet) have e- mail addresses at home, but Paul can receive e-mail at work as long as he does not spend all day answering it. His address is in the X.400 international standard format, but those of us who communicate via the Internet may have difficulty accessing it. Sue also has e-mail facilities but prefers to keep herself free to work.
We make no promises about when we will next write, but hope you have enjoyed our news.
Paul, Sue, Alan, Philip and Ian Hazelden