We anticipated that 1999 would be quite a year, and were not disappointed. Of course, a good deal of our time was spent preparing for our move to Bristol. Because initially we were in temporary accommodation we relied on having our post forwarded, so many of you have wondered if you have our correct address. You do now, it's shown above: please note it! The whole process of moving was so stressful that Sue swears she is never doing it again, and firmly told the estate agent so when he helpfully said "I think you'll find this house will hold its value much better than one in x road." We will spare you the full details, which included losing our first buyer, being gazumped, having a house on which we'd had an offer accepted withdrawn from the market, and - finally - deciding to buy a large house with our friend Steve Poulard. Much could be told of the process between decision and completion, but we will spare you the details of that too.
Suffice it to say, we are now installed in Abbeywood, which is ideal for our needs. We are able to do some of the Snowball teaching in what was the dining room, and with Philip and Ian sharing a large room we also have a spare bedroom. Steve is in the loft, much to Alan's chagrin. The Europe Now office (a bright pink caravan) is on the patio, only just visible from the road (thank goodness! - it's not quite in keeping with the area). The garden is lovely: we are hoping someone will tell us how and help us to look after the plants. We have a view of the River Trym to the front (it's really only stream-sized) and are only a few hundred yards from the Avon. There are lots of horse chestnut trees by the Trym, and, lest we lose touch with reality, the local waste disposal transport depot to our side!
It's great to be living with other people again. Many of you will know we have wanted to be able to do this for a long time. Technically, we are only sharing with Steve, but Mark, Rob and the students are around most of the time during the day, and often pop in and out to use the Snowball room and office in the evenings and at weekends. For the boys, one major advantage is that Steve has a TV (and so do we, now), and he also has Cable, so he can watch the Rugby and Cricket on Sky. Which means all the boys now have an intimate acquaintance with The Simpsons, and Alan could soon qualify as a Trekky (as long as he doesn't have to dress up).
Throughout the year we came to know the M4 and its various service stations quite well. Steve moved to Bristol in January 1999, renting a small house in Sea Mills. Paul stayed with him during the week from April, after he had transferred to his company's Gloucester office. (We thought this would help with the house-buying process, but we were wrong.) Sue brought the boys to stay for at least a weekend each month from Easter onwards, and we were able to look at schools, get to know the area, and do some of the 'touristy' stuff which somehow doesn't happen when you live in a place.
We chose to send Alan to St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School, a CofE secondary school in the centre of Bristol. We were able to apply before we had an address in Bristol, but had to go to appeal: an intimidating process, even for articulate people like us! He has settled in well, although it took a while for him to be moved to the right (ie top) sets in some subjects. School starts at 8.30 am, no fun in the dark of winter, and he negotiates the choice of buses with great skill. He regards school as a necessary evil, but at least being in the city centre means he can go to Games Workshop afterwards, which he generally does once a week. His room is now enhanced by a large terrain board, made by Grandad and being suitably decorated.
Philip and Ian are going to Sea Mills Junior School, and again have settled very well. Philip has been studying some topics which he has done before, so has enjoyed sharing his previous knowledge. He has joined the after-school French club, but will not demonstrate what he has learned. Last summer he competed in the District Sports at 300m and rounders ball throwing, and remained cheerful despite not doing brilliantly. He is an enthusiastic member of his new school's football club, and was always thrilled to be chosen to play for Westborough before we moved. He also thoroughly enjoyed being taken to watch Newcastle play at The Valley (even if he did have to pretend to be a Charlton supporter). He is the only cub in his pack who can swim 50 metres, so has the chance to try canoeing later in the year. Now we have a little more space, Paul's parents bought him one of the large K'nex kits, from which he has built a most impressive space training tower which dominates the bedroom.
Ian realised he could read real books last summer, starting the Harry Potter trilogy while we were on holiday. He lacks his brothers' dedication in this field - personally we blame it on too much TV! - and flits from one book to another, generally preferring cartoons like Asterix and Wallace and Grommit. His teachers do not always know what to make of him, feeling sure he could do better than he chooses to, but he has started to work a little harder now. He continued with his violin until the end of 1999, and even performed in a concert in December, but has now decided to give up. We fear he may want to take up the trumpet when he has finished growing teeth. He is an enthusiastic Beaver in a newish colony, so until Christmas he was the only one who had been invested - he likes to be different.
To review the year, which started - as described last year - in Casualty with Paul's shoulder. Later in January, we received a different diagnosis in Guildford - not frozen, but something else - and the injections in London had done the trick. There have been no recurrences, mercifully. Friends from Australia - Iain and Renee Skinner with Nicholas and Eleanor - arrived to stay in Steve's not-yet-sold Guildford house, and it was great to renew their acquaintance and spend time with them (especially as Sue was working in Steve's garden shed). (Alpha)
February started with free tickets to see Holiday on Ice at Wembley - only Alan didn't want to come, and missed a spectacular evening. Paul spent a weekend in Bristol, visiting a job fair, a couple of church events, and looking at the first of many houses - call it 'House 1', and bear it in mind as you read on. We spent half-term in Bristol, and were also able to see Mike and Liz Cooke, who live in Thornbury. (Learning to Care)
In March, we went for a meal with Nigel and Helen Goddard. We had not seen them for several years, and it was good to re-establish contact again - sadly, just as we were making plans to move away from the area. There was also a trip to London for Sue's Mum's birthday, and Paul's most complicated foreign trip: a weekend in Chalon, France, for the first Europe Now conference; on to a lakeside castle just south of Munich for the Open Air Campaigners European Zone Conference; and finally to Frankfurt to stay with the Jenkins family for a few days. Unfortunately John was in China, but Rosemary, Ruth and Rachel looked after him very well. They managed a little sightseeing, and Paul typed up the conference minutes in between trips.
In April, we took the boys to Legoland for Ian's birthday treat - twice, since his 'best' friend was unwell the first time. That was the trip: the roller-coaster broke down with Sue on it - she was doing OK until it started to roll backwards... We spent part of the Easter holidays in Bristol, joined for a few days by Paul's parents. Paul started working at the Gloucester office, driving up on Monday morning, back to Guildford on Friday night, and staying with Steve in Bristol during the week. The travelling was difficult - Paul was doing at least 600 miles a week, quite a bit more than the 60 he was used to, and it was also a very disorienting lifestyle, where everything you might need in three places had to be carried around. This arrangement left Sue with most of the work of sorting out our house in Guildford while Paul was getting on with preparations for Snowball in Bristol. But finally the NRCD were able to find a replacement for her data entry work, so the handover could start, and there was the prospect of work becoming a little easier. And Sue managed 'her' weekend with Val, which included a murder mystery evening at Val's church, and a delightful visit to Tony Gelston, Sue's former tutor in Durham. (Birdie)
In May the building work at Westborough was completed. Moving back in was a lot of work, but reactions from people when they looked round the new buildings were very encouraging. It is wonderfully satisfying to see lines you have drawn on a piece of paper turn into bricks and mortar in a building that gives people pleasure and is useful. Part of the celebrations was a Variety Show, including a recitation from Paul. At the end of the month, we were once more on the church weekend at Longbarn - the joys of camping, sleeping out under the stars, building models, chest-deep river walks, games and competitions were crowned in the survival activity: for two years we have been paired with the Pryde family and just failed to 'win', and this year were separated from them and were joint winners!
The rest of the June half-term was spent - surprise - in Bristol. Later, Philip enjoyed a school trip and was awarded a certificate for being first out of the Hampton Court Maze. It was very quiet without him - why does the absence of one boy reduce the noise by 50% not 33%? We were delighted to have Peter Hooper to stay overnight.
For Alan's birthday treat, we took some of his friends to the Star Wars Experience at Wembley in July - lots of background information about Episode One, film of the actors rehearsing, light sabres and other props, including the Pod Racer. A couple of weeks later, we went to see Episode One for ourselves (twice, in some cases). After all the hype and then the dismal reviews, it was a relief to discover it was a thoroughly enjoyable, if not life-changing, experience. We enjoyed another quiet weekend when Alan went on the JAM camp and missed a very pleasant family lunch at Pip's in Newbury. And Ian went to see Mr Blair in Downing Street with a petition against closure of his school, although he was looking the wrong way when the Blair family emerged! (The protest against closure was successful, even if Tony's mind was on other things.) Once term had ended, Sue organised sleepovers for Philip and Alan, while Ian chose to take friends to see Star Wars.
We started August with a farewell lunch at Westborough after the service. Steve Pryde had been asked to reminisce, but fortunately we knew enough stories about him to encourage a sense of responsibility in his revelations. It was a highly emotional time, just as we anticipated, but we would not have missed it for the world.
Then we went on holiday with Paul's brother Roger to a gite in France, with the intention of viewing the eclipse. We were near Laon, about as close to the centre line as you could get without a satellite tracking device. Unfortunately, on the day, solid cloud at the wrong time obscured the totality. Even so, it still went quite cold and dark, and you could see the sun hitting the clouds a long way off all round. It was a very odd experience. And it didn't rain, which is more than can be said for the open air concert the previous night, which featured a recording of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets' set to incredible film footage of each one, introduced by two French commentators who solemnly commented each time on how remarkable it was that Holst had composed these pieces without actually having any idea what the planets really looked like, and wasn't it remarkable how well the music fitted the pictures we were going to see. Roger and Paul squelched it out to the end, but Sue took some very soggy cold boys home about half-way through.
We made our second visit to Sue's cousin Valerie and David, this time meeting not just her granddaughters who live there all the time, but also her son Chris and his wife Kay. Roger inspected his father's handiwork from two years ago, and he and Paul spent half the day building a floor - another first! It was good to see the progress they have made, although there is still plenty to do. We made a return visit to Parc Asterix, seeing some parts we had missed before, and also visited some of the many war sites in the area.
It was while we were on holiday that we discovered we had been gazumped. We cut our holiday a few days short, and started the dismal process of house-hunting again. Alan was relieved to miss this, having gone to Tiverton with a friend for a week. Steve agreed that short-term we could move into his rented house in Bristol, so at least we could still go ahead with our sale. It seemed the best plan, as we had arranged schools for all the boys, and were keen for them to start the school year in the right place.
So at the start of September Sue and the boys joined Steve and Paul full-time in Steve's rented house. It was rather a tight squeeze, but we coped somehow. Snowball started at the beginning of September. Paul had not given in his notice at the eXchange, because we had planned to use his salary to apply for a mortgage on a house. This meant he was unable to play his part in the teaching as planned. Fortunately, Mark and Sue Howe had already planned to be in Bristol for the start of the programme, and they re-scheduled their lives to stay until the end of February, so Mark could cover the sessions Paul was to have done.
September was not a pleasant month. Sue had to spend several days in Guildford, finishing packing and getting the furniture into store, and would not have coped without considerable practical and moral support from friends at church! Paul was working full-time in Gloucester, driving an hour each way, and then planning and preparing for the Snowball training. House hunting was going nowhere: nothing seemed suitable. Then Mark suggested that we and Steve consider buying somewhere together - large enough for the six of us, and as a base for the Snowball training for the next few years. We prayed and talked about this, and it seemed the right way to go. Finding and buying Abbeywood required a few miracles, but here we are - furniture in and out of store, boxes of books everywhere, but very happy.
Back to October: Sue started serious job-hunting, and Paul asked the eXchange if he could work part-time in order both to give him more time for Snowball and yet to enable us to pay at least some of our bills. His director said no, he didn't want part-timers, so after due consideration, Paul resigned. His line manager then negotiated for him to work two days a week until mid-January, which has now been extended to one day a week until mid-March. The Snowball programme has been re-arranged to fit in with this work pattern for that period, and although there are a number of aspects of the course Paul cannot be involved with as a consequence, it seems like a working compromise.
October saw the Snowball students running their first after-school Club, Starship Alpha, at the local Anglican church, which Ian thoroughly enjoyed. We were able to see a little of Munir and Kate Din, with Moses, when they returned to Bristol from Pakistan to have their second baby. Ruhama was dedicated in October, and we enjoyed the service and lunch. Just for a change, Sue spent the first part of half-term in Guildford with the boys, where they much appreciated having the run of Matthew and Anne Merritt-Harrison's house and seeing old friends. We broke the return journey with a few hours at Legoland - last time we used our season tickets! Sue then had less than 24 hours in which to organise Philip for Cub camp and herself for a visit to her sister Barbara. It's hard to know who enjoyed themselves most, but Sue and Barbara hit the shops with enthusiasm while Mike went to an art gallery, and Sue saved lots of money completing her interview wardrobe. Honestly.
November was an eventful month. We completed on the purchase of Abbeywood on Monday 8th November, the same day that Paul finally started working with the Snowball students. The first session was 'Creation' - which is sort of appropriate as a starting point. On Wednesday, Sue's sixth job interview was the most gruelling practical test and difficult interview she had yet experienced, and she was astonished to be offered the job. On Thursday (after only a small amount of dithering!) she accepted. On Friday the first half of our furniture was moved from storage into Abbeywood. The rest of the furniture arrived the following Friday, as did Steve's furniture (which had gone to his parents). We have too many wardrobes and not enough armchairs, settees or (especially) bookshelves, so we will be haunting the second hand furniture shops for the next few months! Sue had just over a week in which to finish unpacking, vacuum everything in sight, and move in before she started work. The previous occupants had a dog, so we tried to clean and vacuum as well as possible before moving in. Even so, Paul's asthma was quite bad for the first five or six weeks in the house, which was a little worrying. But it has improved - which could be the sustained prayer, or the dust from moving in settling down.
By this time, Paul had significant teaching commitments on Snowball, so he was juggling course preparation and delivery, with Europe Now office work, two days a week at the eXchange and moving house. We had Paul's parents to stay, working on re-assembling our previous garden shed (don't ask). We are running an Evangelism Explosion course as part of Snowball. It brings back some fond memories of evangelism in Guildford. The launch 'banquet' was held at Highgrove church in mid-November. Peter Crook, the EE National Director, joined us for the day, taught the training sessions and spoke at the meal. He was very impressed by the ability and enthusiasm of the students.
December saw a sleepover for Philip's birthday, Val to stay, Phil Buckley to stay, and Ian's violin concert. There was also a weekend in London, to celebrate Sue's parents Golden Wedding Anniversary. Oh, and Sue managed 3 Christmas lunches with work, while Paul missed all his. We spent a quiet Christmas here, with Steve away, although Pip brought her family over on Boxing Day. Then Paul's family arrived to see the New Year in: we went into Bristol for the early evening fireworks, but also appreciated many displays around midnight!
In January we do not seem to have done much except start school again, although Chris and Hilde Mathieson from Spain have been for a meal, and our two Slovakian students celebrated their birthdays in fine style. There was a church party and barn dance - how long since we danced the Gay Gordons? - which Ian enjoyed as much as we did.
Sue's job is with Knightstone Housing Association, as Team Administrator, with a team of six secretaries to manage. Philip asked "How do you get to be so important so soon?" How indeed! It's a good job, shorter hours and better pay than any of the others she applied for, and flexitime! Also, it's accessible by bus, so we won't need to run two cars. The job itself is quite challenging - Sue had initially hoped for something easier, but we suppose God knows best. At any rate, job-hunting was very time-consuming, and we are glad that is over.
Steve meets Philip and Ian from school when Paul can't: Alan of course is thoroughly grown up and travels to and fro by bus. School holidays could prove interesting when they don't overlap precisely with breaks in the training course, but we will have to work out what to do when the problem arises.
The students are a good bunch: Stefan and Judith are Austrians, and knew each other before they arrived. They have recently become engaged. Stefan had also worked with Elena and Katka, sisters from Slovakia, very different to each other, but both charming. Stefan in particular is already quite an experienced evangelist, and the hope is that at the end of the year he will return to Austria far better equipped to train others, perhaps even to run a version of Snowball for German-speakers. Maybe next year we'll have some Italians. Do let us know if you would like more details for anyone you know!
Our church here has been hugely supportive. We had made contact with Woodlands Christian Fellowship before we arrived, and quickly settled at Highgrove, the original church which planted Woodlands. Woodlands is now the larger church and is very popular with students: it's near the centre of Bristol. Highgrove is comparatively small, more like Westborough, and within walking distance.
We were very quickly offered the chance to join a housegroup, which is very important to us. As one of those odd coincidences, our housegroup leaders have recently moved house. They bought house 1 (we told you not to forget it!), so we now go round there each week for the housegroup meeting. We are on the church coffee rota, and recently led communion on Sunday morning, so I guess that means we have 'arrived'! These people were praying for us even before we moved down, and several of them told us how, in the month we were trying to buy Abbeywood, every time they walked past the house they prayed it would become ours.
From the start of January, we have moved most of the teaching sessions to Abbeywood. We are still working out some of the practical details, like how to ensure the students leave enough bread for the boys so they can have some tea, and how to organise the washing up of the vast number of dirty mugs we produce each day.
Our cultural education has been mostly limited to films this year. Mark Howe took Alan with him to see the new Bond film (we haven't seen it yet, and Alan is still gloating!), and Paul took Alan to see Insurrection. Paul took Ian to see Tarzan - what superb animation! We all saw Star Wars Episode One, and Paul and Sue managed Shakespeare in Love - what did that ending mean?
Sue's new job is a good one, but even so she will be earning less than half Paul's previous salary. We want to say a very big 'thank-you' to all of you who have helped support us financially over the past year, but we still need to direct a serious amount of effort towards increasing that support in the next year. Paul won't be continuing to work for the eXchange after March, but even his reduced income has been very important over the last few months. Abbeywood is clearly the place where God wants us, and the place He has provided for us, but in order to complete the purchase quickly we did not buy it in equal shares with Steve, and we borrowed the money for the legal fees from the bank. So we have to repay that loan, and also make repayments to Steve until we own equal shares of the house.
We have fixed Saturday 1 April 2000 as the obvious date to have an 'open house' - please come if you can make it. If that day doesn't work for you, let us know and we will fix another date for you.
Some of you will receive this with the January 2000 prayer letter, containing more of the Snowball news. If you would like to see a copy (or would like more copies!), do let us know. They are both on the web site, along with various other bits of news we could not squeeze in here. (Web) Thanks for your letters, email and continued interest.
Paul, Sue, Alan, Philip and Ian Hazelden
The lunchtime prayer meeting in Woking decided to run a lunchtime Alpha course, which proved very successful. New people came along who had not attended the 'normal' prayer meetings, including a number of people who were either not Christians or who were very unsure about their faith.
It was fascinating to see Alpha at work after hearing so much from other people about it. The format worked for a wide range of people, whatever one might think about the content.
Before leaving Westborough, Paul & Sue signed up for a 'Learning to Care' course. Unfortunately, it incolved a great deal more work than we had anticipated. We thought we were agreeing to one evening a week, but it also involved reading and answering questions in a work book almost every day. Sue could not manage the time commitment, but Paul saw it through to the end.
The course was a fascinating combination of the very useful, the very obvious, and (in some cases) the fairly dangerous. We produced quite a list of serious issues and concerns about the content of the course, which Pastor David said he would attempt to feed back, but we have heard nothing on the subject since the course finished.
Also in April, we went to see 'Bye-bye Birdie' - another production Phil Buckley was in, and again it was very impressive and enjoyable. This was the second performance we had been to in the Ben Travers theatre at charterhouse school.
Paul continued to maintain a couple of web sites, along with our family site. The other two are for Westborough URC and Bracknell Swim and Sauna. This involved very little work, but provided quite a bit of interesting contact with people from across the world, and stimulated a number of email conversations. It's a fascinating way to meet people!
The main new venture on our web site is the 'Interactive Gospel' - which was finished in outline by the end of 1999, although filling in the gaps will take a lot more work.