Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

By Fran Hill

We wagged church today and walked on Bigbury Beach in the rain. It was lovely – it was spitting a bit really, not raining. There is a lot of posturing in wetsuits always happening at this time of year on Devon and Cornwall beaches. A lot of people would like you to believe that they are experts in something that they have never ever done before and are trying very hard to impress cool young people who know their way around a surfboard. I am glad I am old and decrepit and no-one will ever mistake me for a surfer. Still, there is amusement to be had. We watched an American gentleman talking to a lifeguard and trying really hard to pretend his Weever fish sting wasn’t really killing him. (They’re tiny but they have needles in their spines which they share with unsuspecting humans by burying themselves in the sand just where the beach meets the sea – just where bare feet will be a wandering – the little rascals). Bless him, I think he was panicking a bit because how could something that small deliver that much pain. However, a nice lifeguard gave him a laminated sheet to read which assured him that people hardly ever go into toxic shock or have a heart attack and he seemed a bit comforted.

Just before the book review and there is a connection – it’s about a teacher – it’s tenuous but it’s there. Can I just put my two penneth in and say why on earth can’t we just give pupils the grades their teachers gave them? Ok, some may be a bit high but this has not been a normal year. Let these poor kids go to uni and have a great time. If they are not good enough they will know soon enough. And, unlike members of this government, they will probably hold their hands up straight away and say so. We are in the middle of a pandemic. No-one has failed because no-one has been able to take their exams and it wasn’t their fault. Give them a break! Phew. Going for a lie down in a dark room now.

Anyway, the book. This is a diary of a schoolteacher. It’s a bit in the style of Bridget Jones with a visit to the scales and the mirror every morning to examine menopausal acne. I was a bit worried at first because I’m not sure that Adrian Plass has done the author any favours by describing her as “The Victoria Wood of the classroom.”. That’s a high bar there. So it is a joy to discover that the book is a really good laugh with genuine laugh out loud moments. Fran is obviously a teacher and knows her stuff – especially about the heavy load of outside school hours work which, at one point seems to be taking its toll on her whole life. The most joyous parts are the parts with the pupils who she obviously adores (and also feels driven to the end of her tether by) and you do get a great picture of how rewarding teaching is and why people do it – despite the bone-numbing exhaustion. I had a look at the Amazon reviews which are almost uniformly excellent apart from one person who winges about the Christian element of the book. I have a few things to say about that. Firstly, if this is supposed to be a rounded and honest appraisal of what makes this woman tick then it should include her spiritual life. Secondly, if this is your idea of too much Christian content, you need to get out more – or maybe read the books I was “encouraged ” to read as a youngster. Thirdly (and I really don’t want to sound like some terrible right-wing strange person here but here goes). If she were a Buddhist and mentioned that every Wednesday night she met up with mates to go a chanting – I am willing to bet good money that it wouldn’t even get a mention. Does my head in.

I’d like to see a sequel, to be honest, as, towards the end, we get to find out a bit more about her past life and I think it would be good to know more about how this has affected her as it comes out in the open. Anyway, this is really good. It’s writing with depth but it’s really funny about a normal person doing a sterling job. There’s also a good deal of writing about cake which is apparently what is keeping the teaching profession going under a great deal of pressure and that can certainly never be a bad thing.

I like it warm…

but not this warm! We have a heatwave in the South West of England. So we got on the ferry and had a small tincture by the sea. I was slightly concerned by the colour of that sky as I knew we would have to get back on the ferry and would rather not do it in torrential (if warm) rain. You may well have it hotter. We also have a tourist wave. Devon and Cornwall are officially full according to local police etc. That is, under COVID-19 reduced capacity rules we cannot fit anyone in.

It is a difficult balance, isn’t it? For every person leaning over a motorway bridge with a sign saying “GO HOME!” there’s someone else with a small cafe or B&B that needs every penny of the business. It seems to be a bigger deal here because the South West has done quite well so far with the old R rate (probably as much to do with the population density as it is the sterling work undoubtedly done by us) People in St Ives are particularly fascinated by tourists’ inability to keep to the left side of the street, despite lots of signs supported by stout and helpful ladies in green polo shirts called Barbara who are giving up their free time to help direct you around. (Mind you St Ives’ streets are notoriously narrow and winding).

Speaking of directions, can I just draw your attention to our local shopping mall – Drake Circus? (It’s Plymouth – Drake’s Island, Drake’s Square, Drake’s Place. The City Council were having huge palpitations when the Black Lives Matter movement turned their gaze on his troubling slave-trading beginnings). To follow the social distancing directions in the mall you need a good compass, Google Maps and if possible the services of Hiawatha or Henry Stanley. I keep finding myself facing the wrong way while I am trying to get into Waterstones and one person cutting across the lanes in the opposite direction seems to throw the whole shopping centre (all three floors) into disaster movie-level chaos.

Anyway, these are piddling things. I would just like to thank everyone for the remarks and prayers that you sent last week. I have deliberately not replied one to one because it didn’t seem appropriate and also it felt a bit inadequate. But I was moved and encouraged and felt the way people feel when they have been prayed for – which I have known before. So my heartfelt thanks.

I have had a week where I have tried to slow down and lament a little but it has mainly left me a bit confused. (And behind at work). However, I did have a lovely conversation with one of his friends from the Sixties who had gone to church with him. No-one had been in touch with him and I thought he ought to know. He lives in Torquay and we had a laugh about the holidays there when I was very young. Conversations like that are good for the soul. Also, HOH took me out for breakfast which we did in a socially distanced way – sitting outside (at least until the thunder started), ordering on the app (no provision to order sausage barm WITHOUT butter) and leaving details for contact tracing (pen and paper rather than “world-beating” app). It was very lovely.

I was a bit concerned about Aged Parent but, whether it’s dementia or the fact that their relationship wasn’t exactly Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, she hasn’t mentioned it – except to say that she won’t be going to the funeral. I’m not sure it was ever an option – for either of us. She was more worked up because they couldn’t get the DVD to load on the communal showing of The Sound of Music, to be honest, and I think that is a good way to be, taking into account all the circumstances.


So my father died. It’s stark but there it is. I did consider not saying anything on this forum but I consider many of you my friends and it would feel dishonest.

I don’t really know how I feel about it really. In many ways, he was a distant figure who struggled to juggle the demands of the home he left with the home he went to. So we ended up with a bit of an unsatisfactory mess where people in his new home would address me and my brother like a public meeting and scold us that our father’s heart was full of love for us. However, to paraphrase (badly) the great Kenneth Brannah in the Harry Potters “Fatherhood is as Fatherhood does Harry”. And we saw very little of him (except the time he came to steal my bike oh and also my premium bonds and … well never mind – water under the bridge and all that). I think it probably says all that you need to know that it took nearly a week before anyone thought to lift a phone and let me know that he had died. I don’t think it was malicious – I just don’t think that people gave us a thought.

He was very unhappy with my Mum, Why those two ever married is one of life’s great conundrums but married they were. I remember them both being unhappy together and I remember doing that really common childhood thing of trying to make everyone happy by being no trouble, keeping my mouth closed, and trying to be a top-notch daughter. My friend Susan (she was from Yorkshire – you have to pronounce it Sowsan) who was in the same predicament used to say “You’re bloody stupid you are. I make sure my parents pay for everything they put me through.” I admired the self-preservation but it wasn’t for me.

He was never really my father-not in the received sense of the word. I remember reading Floyd McClung’s The Father Heart of God. The first time I read it, I had no idea what he was talking about because I didn’t know what a father was supposed to be. The second time I read it, I cried all the way through because I understood what was I had been missing. I watch HOH now and I see what a father in action looks like. He wouldn’t claim to be perfect but the sense of presence in his kids’ lives is what it is about I think.

My dad was a Christian – “old school” for want of a better phrase. When my brother came out as gay he called him a pervert. That was tough but I suppose he was brought up in different times. He suffered from dementia and although I would speak to him on the phone, I didn’t take the opportunity to go and see him at the end. The whole thing was surrounded by unpleasantness that I didn’t have the capacity to deal with and he wouldn’t have known me oh yes and flipping COVID. Bottom line was that I didn’t want to go. There really was no point.

But, when I am overwhelmed with what may be bitterness, I remember letters to my kids when they were away at camp that made them laugh like drains and what some people called the best Father of the Bride speech that they had ever heard. I try to think of something good about him and I look back to a time when I was sitting in his car. I was having a dreadful time. Church was horrendous (Christians eh?) and I was lost – as a Christian and a person. And he gave me a book – marked at a page. He told me to read it and take it on board. If I could, it would change my life and I did and it did.

I think that I have probably mentioned the book before. It’s a commentary on Romans by William R Newell, much of which is like wading through treacle backwards but blimey, the chapter on grace is astonishing. Please don’t feel the need to read it – although it is amazing. I reproduce it here, partly as a thank you to a dad who I didn’t really know but I think is probably somewhere where it is all clear as day and he gets to understand who it was he was supposed to be.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT GRACE by William R. Newell


  1. Grace is God acting freely, according to his own nature as Love,
    with no promise or obligations to fulfill; and acting of course,
    righteously­ in view of the cross
  2. Grace, therefore, is uncaused in the recipient: its cause lies wholly
    in the GIVER, in GOD
  3. Grace, also is sovereign. Not having debts to pay, or fulfilled
    conditions on man’s part to wait for, it can act toward whom, and
    how, it pleases. It can and does, often place the worst deservers in
    the highest favors.
  4. Grace cannot act where there is either desert or ability: Grace
    does not help­ it is absolute, it does all.
  5. There being no cause in the creature why Grace should be shown,
    the creature must be brought off from trying to give cause to God for
    His Grace.
  6. The discovery by the creature that he is truly the object of Divine
    grace, works the utmost humility: for the receiver of grace is brought
    to know his own absolute unworthiness, and his complete inability to
    attain worthiness: yet he fins himself blessed, – on another
    principle, outside of himself.
  7. Therefore, flesh has no place in the plan of Grace. This is the
    great reason why Grace is hated by the proud natural mind of man.
    But for this very reason, the true believer rejoices! For he knows that
    “in him, that is, in his flesh, is no good thing”: and yet he finds God
    glad to bless him, just as he is!
  8. He has been accepted in Christ, who is his standing!
  9. He is not “on probation”
  10. As to his life past, it does not exist before God: he died at the
    Cross, and Christ is his life.
  11. Grace, once bestowed, is not withdrawn: for God knew all the
    human exigencies beforehand: His action was independent of them,
    not dependent upon them.
  12. The failure of devotion does not cause the withdrawal of bestowed
    grace (as it would under law). For example: the man in 1 Corinthians
    5:1­5; and those in 11:30­32, who did not “judge” themselves, and
    so were “judged by the Lord,­ that they might not be condemned
    with the world”!
  13. To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great
  14. To refuse to make “resolutions” and “vows”; for that is to trust in
    the flesh.
  15. To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of
  16. To testify of God’s goodness, at all times.
  17. To be certain of God’s future Favor; yet to be ever more tender in
    conscience toward Him.
  18. To rely on God’s chastening hand as a mark of his kindness.
  19. A man under grace, if like Paul, has no burdens regarding himself;
    but many about others.
  20. To “hope to be better” is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.
  21. To be disappointed with yourself, is to have believed in yourself.
  22. To be discouraged is unbelief, ­ as to God’s purpose and plan of
    blessing for you.
  23. To be proud, is to be blind! For we have no standing before God,
    in ourselves.
  24. The lack of Divine blessing, therefore, comes from unbelief, and
    not from failure of devotion.
  25. Real devotion to God arises, not from man’s will to show it; but
    from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while
    we were yet unworthy and undevoted.
  26. To preach devotion first, and blessing second, is to reverse God’s
    order, and preach law, not grace. The Law mad man’s blessing
    depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional
    blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so

Speaking and Hearing

I hope everyone has had a sterling weekend. I wish I had things to tell you about scaling the North Face of the Eiger or being dipped doing the merengue with Steve Martin but it is is a measure of our weekend that the most exciting thing that happened was our first attempt at a “Click and Collect” from Sainsbury’s. Before the Covid inconvenience, I would do a monthly shop on payday to get the stuff from Sainsbury’s that we can’t get anywhere else (including a month’s worth of wine, which can be very heavy, not that there are excessive amounts or anything) and I would get that delivered. Anything else we need in the course of a month, we deal with by having Aldi and Lidl round the corner. Obviously, I can’t get a delivery spot at the moment because more deserving people are in front of me so we thought we would try “Click and Collect”. We have a perfectly good car with one little fault – neither of the front windows open, so, if people need to talk to us, whoever is driving needs to get out of the car. It’s fine – we are used to it Everything seemed all sensible and distanced at Sainsbury’s but when a masked assistant approached the car, it was quite funny watching him press himself against the next-door car as if HOH was getting out with an axe in hand rather than just taking his ticket number.

On Saturday we decided to embrace our age and took bacon barms and a flask up to a local beauty spot – nice and early before the car park filled up with 4x4s and people trying to take four canoes and a paddleboard off their roof racks and trying to stop their pugs eating seagull poo from the waste bins. We got into a very interesting and nostalgic conversation with two Jack Russell owners. We all discussed at length how Jacks can suddenly take against another dog for no reason. Apparently, this is very common and it made us feel better because our Morecambe just used to get a bit snappy whereas this chap’s dog used to go “straight for the Crown Jewels”. Quite.

After a morning cleaning Aged Parent’s kitchen and helping her with putting on a DVD before we left. Actually, we were glad we were leaving because the beginning of the film had much too much jig-a jig for me to deal with – especially being in the same room as my mother. In the end, it turned out to be a Danielle Steele and not quite as bad as it started I think but Head of House was quite traumatised by the whole experience.

This morning we went to church via our sofa. Is anyone back-back yet? I don’t know of anyone who is. I still find it really strange and with the rowing back on the opening up, I don’t suppose people will be back anytime soon. This morning, we watched an old pastor of ours (he’s not old – you know what I mean) He is a great speaker and very normal. It’s a privilege to be able to hear him again. A weird and unexpected good thing to come out of Covid. He asked the question about whether God still speaks to people directly and specifically – outside of the Bible. (Spoiler – he said God did and gave several examples from his own life) If you are interested in hearing him – his name is Andy Caldwell and he preaches on YouTube at Welcome Baptist Church. I’ve had it happen myself. When I was ill many years ago someone told me stuff about me that he couldn’t have possibly known and then the stuff he said would happen did happen. It’s really a good and vital way to live but, for me, I wouldn’t say that it happened often enough. I think that is probably down to me – if you don’t have it’s because you don’t ask, I think they say. Obviously as well, like most Christians, I have been affected by nutters saying that God has told them to tell me to (a) give them all my money (b) dress more modestly (this was usually my cue to take the hem up on my skirt – rebellious that’s me) or (c) marry them. OK, the last one has never happened to me but HOH had a girl from church turn up on his doorstep saying that God had said that she had to tell him that she loved him. I think that God’s involvement was unlikely because HOH didn’t really reciprocate but I think she got over it all pretty quickly because she asked if he was gay then. I have to admit – I admire that level of self-confidence. “If he doesn’t fancy me he must be gay.” Go you!

Anyone else have God speaking directly into situations? But really though. Not because it would be convenient to say so. My favourite story -which I am certain I have shared before is of Joy Davidman – poet and wife of CS Lewis – having a sense of God at her shoulder all day. Thinking she was in trouble – because she knew she had done plenty to deserve it – she ignored the still small voice, constantly shaking it off. But it was so persistent, she thought “Ok, let’s get it over with” and turned to face whatever judgement she was going to get. Only for her to hear a voice saying. “No. I want to give you something.” and then being shown something lovely about who she was before God. I may be underestimating how much I am loved which is my loss. It seems that God is more than willing to tell me about it.

About Last Weekend

Missing again, sorry. All the blogs about blogs tell you that consistency in posting is the key. I am pretty sure though that the writers of blogs about blogs did not spend last weekend dealing with ambulances called because Aged Parent had possibly taken an accidental overdose of controlled drugs and then spent the next four days trying to get an already overstretched Social Care system to change her Care Plan so that drugs are administered by carers. Arrrgh. So sorry, not sorry. For the record, we are pretty sure she didn’t take too many controlled drugs but just between you and me, I am fairly certain that she took 50% of her course of antibiotics in two days rather than the prescribed week. She seems fine though and if you can find it in your heart to forgive the fact that her easy come-easy go approach to antibiotics may mean that she is single-handedly responsible for all outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections in the future, I would be really grateful.

Aged Parent is, as usual, completely unrepentant and unbothered by the possibility that she may have misunderstood the situation. See thus…

Anyhow one of those Ambulance drivers was very hoity-toity with me. The trouble is now that all the NHS staff are stinking rich. What with all that money that the old bloke with the walker earned for them. They don’t have to bother now.

Other than that, we had a visit from FOW2 which was all lovely and we were all very sensible. As it was HOH’s birthday, the plan was for five of us to eat in the courtyard at Wildwood but, as Plymouth weather had decided not to play ball we ate inside and, although I know there are no guarantees, it all seemed very careful and clean and distanced.

Not much else to report apart from work etc. I have gone to bed and tucked my head under the sheet to read. (Not easy when you are blowing in and out of a paper bag to try and stay calm).

Both books are about feminism/equality/leadership – you get the drift. They are quite different though. Equality is Biblical by Pen Wilcock is a scholarly book. It is short but densely packed and I read it twice. She’s really good on how much of our belief is tied up in what our ancestors told us rather than received Biblical wisdom. There’s a frankly inspiring chapter about women leaders in the early church- Hilda of Whitby, Hildegard of Bingen, Dame Julian of Norwich and Margery Kemp. All fine figures of women leaders with good stout names as well. (Also inspiring because a couple of them are not spring chickens either). Also good is the Chapter on Paul which, while not ignoring the “women be silent” elephant in the pulpit, shows his total acceptance of women leaders in the church at the time. All this alongside pages which connect some of our theology back to the Spanish Inquisition – which I didn’t expect. (You’ll either get that or you won’t). This is definitely a thinky read. I never make very detailed notes. I either lose them or read them back and can’t make head nor tail of ’em but I made some here. I also found it a bit emotional because I recognised a lot of what I was taught as a child/young person and it may well have been balderdash. Who knew?

Ready to Rise is the latest book by Jo Saxton who is a leadership coach, podcast host, speaker etc. I had been watching her on Instagram when the Black Lives Matter movement first exploded and she is very impressive. I have to say up-front that I am not sure that this book is for me. It is a call to arms for women to step into their leadership calling and area of influence. I think that particular ship may have sailed for me, but I recognised a lot in it. She looks at workplace harassment, sexism and power battles. She has experience being the only woman at a top table and how difficult that is. I always hesitate to say that this is for you if you are young because I am convinced that a calling to be what you are meant to be can come at any time but if you have the energy and the drive this is an excellent support manual.

Righty-ho. Off to eat a Magnum on the balcony. Only ordinary I’m afraid. There are no Mint ones left. More proof, if proof were needed, that 2020 is turning out to be one disappointment after another.