A family occasion

John and Anabel Marsh, John Mitchell and John Platts, 21st March 1981

In late 1980 John and I were still ‘feeling our way’ and stepping lightly in our new situation. After 24 years of circuit life we felt cut off with no congregations of our own, so to speak, although as time went by that changed and John found plenty to make him very busy, as I did myself. I was chief house keeper! Soon I was answering the phone, typing letters and being his secretary and social organiser.

We were delighted when Anabel and her boyfriend, John Marsh, announced they would like to be married early in the New Year. We thought that would take a bit of organising! Then it turned out they didn’t want a big wedding, but just a small affair with only parents and siblings (and partners) to be present, plus one close friend each, Valerie and Robert. They had not been engaged and Anabel didn’t want to be ‘given away’, or any other formality, but they planned to come to Newcastle and be married in West Avenue Methodist Church by Rev John Platts and Rev John Mitchell, father of the bride. We were very pleased about that. I could see pitfalls though: not everyone was happy about not being invited but, as Anabel and John said, if we have one we’d have to have them all, which was true. We reserved a table for lunch at the Northumberland Hotel and looked forward to the happy day.

That was 21st March 1981 and what a happy day it was. We all assembled at West Avenue Church in the morning. Rev John M went off to the vestry to join Rev John P, with Anabel and John. While we waited, the organist played ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ which Anabel and John had chosen. They all came in together, Anabel and John hand in hand, and took their places at the altar. And in a short time they were joined in matrimony for better or for worse – I’m glad to say better has prevailed! The party at the Northumberland was great, the food was lovely and we had champagne bought by our newly acquired son-in-law who before long seemed more like a son! Remembering the whole day later, my feelings were that it was a good way to marry. The focus was on the actual marriage and those present were all closest family and friends. We came in our best clothes looking good without having to scour the shops for matching shoes etc. No stress! Anabel had a new suit and looked lovely. John was well turned out, except that when his Mum arrived at our house the first thing she said to him was, ‘John, I told you to get your hair cut!’

We had taken part in a ceremony which can stand alone. It is a tremendous commitment for the rest of their lives that the couple make in their vows to each other. The wedding was as Anabel and John had wanted it to be, but had they preferred a reception with 100 guests John and I would gladly have had a chat with our Bank Manager and gone ahead!

We went back to Ancroft Way where Anabel and John changed into their travelling clothes before going off to the station to start their journey to Amsterdam. Someone must have driven them but I can’t remember who! They had a lovely time there and have been back many times since.

Although Anabel had left home to work in libraries she had come home quite often, but it was different now. She had another tie and a home of her own, which sparked off the following verse.

21st March 1981

We all went to a wedding today;

Anabel and Elspeth and John and me.

Elspeth and I and John came home

Feeling a wee bit lost and lone,

Because Anabel had gone off with her groom;

Leaving us – with another spare room!


Hard to believe it is almost 37 years ago.


District doings

Visit to Turbinia at Parsons c1989

The Engineering Works of Parsons was founded in 1889 by Charles A. Parsons who invented the steam turbine. Their factory was at Heaton, Newcastle. They built the ship Turbinia, which was launched in 1894, sailed at almost 40 mph, and was then easily the fastest in the world. By the time John was District Chairman, Parsons had a Methodist Chaplain, Rev Peter Hutchings, who visited the factories and offices and was available for anyone who wanted to talk to him. The Chaplain and John were invited to meet with the staff: it was probably their 100th Anniversary. Before he was called to Ministry, John was an engineering apprentice in a Greenock firm that made ships’ engines, so he enjoyed seeing the turbines and the Turbinia. The ship can still be seen in a Newcastle museum. Like many others, Parsons was taken over, eventually becoming part of Siemens, the name was lost and much of the work moved away.

Medal from Parsons event

It brings to mind my teenage years when the back windows of our house looked onto the Clyde. At any time, you could see ships sailing up or down the river and the dredgers were out every day keeping the deep channel clear. Nowadays small yachts, occasional gigantic cruise liners, and small cargo ships appear but in no great number. Glasgow and Greenock lost most of their shipbuilding and related industry. Paisley was to the forefront in weaving and was known world-wide for the Paisley pattern and the Paisley shawl: now they too are exhibited in the local museum. It seems everything can be made more cheaply in other countries while we are losing the skills of so many people. That is only three places out of many. ‘Made in Britain’ is hard to find!

With Rev Bill Davies

1988 was Methodism’s 250th Anniversary, and to say we had a magnificent celebration was an understatement! Never before had the media taken such an interest. The President that year was Rev. Bill Davies, then head of Cliff College, and his visit to the District in April coincided with, and added a lot to, the events. He and his wife Barbara stayed with us and I was her ‘guide’. Photographers and reporters were around when three men of the District sacrificed their beards of long-standing so that they could play the clean-shaven Wesley brothers and George Whitfield in a play they were to be in at the Saturday night event. Between the three, being shaven raised £700 for two charities. The President had a press conference, interviews with two local radio stations, and another for BBC North-East News! The media publicised all the events. John Wesley had visited Newcastle well over 40 times, the last only months before his death. He rode on horseback to preach in many places all over Britain and only when he was well in his 80s admitted he was finding it difficult to preach two sermons in a day!

Wesley Celebration – City Hall

On Saturday afternoon, 400 young people competed in ‘It’s a Knockout’ with other games for younger children. There were lots of things happening all day throughout the District. In the evening, an audience of over 2000 in the City Hall were entertained by a choir of 200 voices and the 50 strong Springfield Wind Band made up of school children. The play Give Me Your Hand was about the Wesley family. It was sensational, especially the scene showing the boy John Wesley being rescued from their burning house – ‘a brand from the burning’ – as was the storm when the Wesley brothers sailed home from America as failures. It was amazingly well done. All who took part in the entertainment that night were superb. John had started the evening by welcoming everyone and the President closed the occasion with an epilogue especially written by John. The President preached in Sunderland on Sunday morning, the afternoon was free to relax. The evening service was an ecumenical one at St Nicholas Cathedral with a congregation of 1000. Afterwards there was a parade to the quayside, joined by the majority, to the Wesley Obelisk.

The obelix had been gifted to the city to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of John Wesley’s death, and stood near the spot where he preached his first sermon to a Geordie congregation. It rained on our parade unfortunately – but who cared? a drop of rain wasn’t going to hold us back. There were policemen with us but we caused them no trouble! The TV cameras were there also. President Bill and Chairman John led a brief ceremony of celebration which ended the day. Despite the rain, it was a while before we all made our way home, tired, happy and uplifted by the wonderful day.

There was one meeting on Monday morning with the ministers and deacons of the District, back to our Manse for lunch, then our visitors left for home. It was an incredible few days, never to be forgotten. For 14 years we welcomed the Presidents’ visits, and all were enjoyable and memorable, but none topped the 1988 event. It was unique!

The Church Leaders continued their visits together, and in 1988 in late November they took a step forward. They composed a Covenant which basically pledged all ‘to act together wherever and whenever possible except in those matters in which conscience still required us to act separately.’ This always seemed a better idea to me than trying to join the different traditions of the Church into one big entity with one way of worshipping as it once was. It didn’t work, some chose different ways: silence for Quakers, immersion for Baptists and so on. Methodism arose because John Wesley, although an Anglican priest, felt driven to go out and preach to the people who were neglected by the Church, converting many and changing lives. He composed many hymns, but fewer than his brother Charles. Their hymns are still familiar to many today.

In 1988, Synod met at Haltwhistle which was our first Circuit as a newly married starry-eyed couple. Sometimes I was a member, but whether a member or not I was usually there in the background. It was always good to get a visit to our first home and meet up with all the friends. If I wasn’t elected I couldn’t vote of course, just look and listen. The catering was worth going for as well!

Synod at Haltwhistle 1988. John with Derek Aldridge.

Haltwhistle and its people always had a special place in our hearts, our first home where our children were born – happy days indeed. I had a letter recently from Isobel, our occasional baby-sitter and friend since 1956, who had just joined me as a nonagenarian. Her husband died in 2005. Her nieces and nephews and their families gathered for a birthday celebration and she had a happy weekend. She said she was only just recovering from all the excitement. I know how she felt! We shall probably not meet again, but as long as we are able shall write and phone and keep up to date and share the memories.

Home again

Although we had so much enjoyed being with the Alabamians it was great to be back in our own home again and hearing the lovely Geordie accent. We had plenty of material for meetings if we were asked and we were, John more than me fortunately! Before long we were back into normal busy life. We had a list of letters to be sent to Alabama most of which fell to me. Now there is only one left of those we kept in touch with, Faye. Her husband Luther (Lute) died some years ago and later Betty and Dan died within a year of each other. They were friends of long-standing. I remember a hilarious evening we spent with them at an Ice Cream Parlour just like we’d seen in the movies.

Church leaders: Presbyterian, Methodist, Salvation Army, RC, Anglican

John continued having as many as possible meetings and committees etc. at the Manse, it was more comfortable than some of the church rooms available. Plus of course he had a convenient caterer to hand! I liked it anyway, it gave me a chance to get to know people around the District. I described circuit life as the same pattern followed every year, and being Chairman was much the same on a wider scale. One difference was he was invited to Civic and other events and sometimes I was included.

In February 1983, there was a Festival of Praise which gathered hundreds of Methodists from Durham to the Borders. This was to celebrate the new hymn book, ‘Hymns and Psalms’, which replaced the one dated 1933. Rev David MacDonald was the commentator along with Rev Dr Ivor Jones from Bristol, who was one of the compilers. There were new hymns in and some old ones out. Many people were unhappy that ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ was left out and the outcry was so great that the compilers had to give in and bring it back. It is still a popular hymn and was not left out of the following hymn book published in 2011, ‘Singing the Faith’. This one was received with less enthusiasm probably because there were so many new modern hymns some of which had difficult tunes but gradually they are being absorbed!

In the same year, in October, Ardgowan Methodist Church (now Greenock Methodist Church) where I belonged and was married to John, reached its Centenary. John Wesley visited Greenock in 1772 so the history went back further. The Greenock Telegraph finished their report by saying that three young men from the Church had become Methodist Ministers but two, Skinner and Mitchell, were now Church of Scotland ministers, Tom Wilkinson being the third! True enough Alistair Skinner did transfer not long after he was ordained. Someone obviously noticed, the next edition corrected it and said John was Newcastle Chairman. My sister Annabel sent me the cuttings (above).

There were few women Ministers in the early eighties and while she may not have been the first in the District, the appointment of Thelma Williams to Allendale in 1985 got a mention and photograph in one of the local papers. The headline in large letters being, ‘MINISTER IS WOMAN’. Haltwhistle also had a new Minister but being male he got no headline! Time has made change and in Newcastle District there are around 36 men and 30 women ministers.

I mentioned some time ago that Anabel was one of a group of girls who exchanged with a group of schoolgirls from Gelsenkirchen in Germany. John exchanged several times in a group of six ministers from Newcastle churches with a similar group from Gelsenkirchen. Our two cities were linked in friendship. The German Pastor Peter Leimcke stayed with us and John stayed with Peter and his wife. All were given hospitality in homes and each day met to go on excursions. John filled an album with postcards and enjoyed visits to breweries and other industries as well as sight-seeing. The ministers preached on the Sundays. Nearly all the Germans spoke some English and few, if any, of our lot spoke any German, so they used a translator. Peter translated John’s farewell speech on one occasion. I’m sure John did his best but his effort caused a lot of merriment, even when it wasn’t meant to be amusing. (Quoting him!)

Gelsenkirchen party

We had realised that a lot of the people we entertained would enjoy a glass of wine. The art of making your own had recently come into fashion and I was tempted! I bought a couple of glass demijohns and the ingredients required and got going. I can’t remember how long it took to be ready to bottle, but once the jars were ready I started all over again having tasted the first bottle and both John and I thinking it was quite pleasant really. Friends liked it although I didn’t disclose to everybody I’d made it. Some might have been shocked!! When the combined group of ministers were having a get together somewhere, John said he’d bring some wine to go with cake another was bringing. John came rushing home after a bit and asked was there any more wine? There was! The German party were so delighted with this wine they had finished it. They were used to wine I suppose, which we weren’t, and could drink a lot without much effect. John told Peter that night that it was home-made and he was very surprised. While I was delighted! After all, if they liked it with all their experience, it must have been good.

Alabama – part 3

We visited so many places in Alabama that I could probably go on for ages so I’ll make it shorter by mentioning as many places of interest as I can remember. It was hard not to notice the statue of Vulcan, God of the Forge on the top of Red Mountain. He is 55 feet tall and weighs 120,000 lbs. In his eye-line, lower down and at a distance is a statue less impressive of a stately goddess whose name escapes me. We were told, tongue in cheek, that they pined for one another but could never meet!

Brother Joseph, a Benedictine monk spent over forty years creating the Ave Maria Grotto at St Bernard Abbey and College near Cullman. It covered four acres and had well over a hundred models of churches, shrines and other buildings all constructed from scrap pottery, china ware, jewellery, stones and beads. It was built on rocky ground, and was a wonderful sight.

We visited Noccalula Falls Park. The fall was like a miniature Niagara and seemed to have a permanent rainbow which we saw, but maybe we were just lucky with the timing. There were nature trails and a rebuilt pioneer village which gave a good idea of the hard work being a pioneer was and things to ride on. It was part of our trip to Tennessee. We stayed at Rodeway Motel at Pigeon Forge. On our travels we saw the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Streetcar named Desire and the longest covered bridge ever. There was a mill which had been grinding continuously since 1830. It was called The Old Mill! When we were there it still provided 13 kinds of meal, flour and grits. We had been told in Alabama that we must try Grits for breakfast which we did. It turned out to be an uninteresting mushy stuff. I didn’t tell anyone that it was a poor substitute for good old Scottish porridge oats. The mill was well worth the visit and the people were very pleasant.

I mentioned the Clubs. Kermit and Doll invited us to have dinner with them at his Club. We arrived and got out of the car at the entrance where we were met by a man came to whom Kermit handed his keys and the car was parked for him. We were a bit taken aback at the grandeur of the place inside and, as we understood he worked for an Insurance Company, I thought salaries must be a lot more generous here! We had a lovely meal during which it became clear the couple were well-known to the staff. It was on top of Red Mountain, 1050 ft above the City and had 5000 members. The car was summoned and we left in style back to their house for evening coffee. Their furniture was also old style and formal. I never saw a house with books and stuff lying around.

Kermit and Doll also took us to ‘have an audience’ with the first black Mayor of Birmingham, Mayor Richard Arrington. He gave John a signed photograph and a key to the City. He was a very nice man and made us very welcome. He was Mayor until 1999. Doll took us on a visit to the Botanical Gardens with Emily Propst who was the Children’s Minister’s granddaughter. She was so typically a Southern Young Lady who said Yes, sir, and Yes, ma’am and was apparently very shy. We enjoyed seeing the wonderful colour and variety of many plants we didn’t recognise and were happy until Doll wanted us to see all the tropical stuff like bananas, coconuts, gigantic cacti with flowers and more, in the hot-house. We had been just about passing out already with the heat in the greenhouses but the tropical place was so hot and steamy I felt I would melt. I excused myself and slowly made my way to the retiring room and took my tights and my underskirt off and braved the heat again! Doll noticed my bare legs but made no comment. From then I went with bare legs unless it was some formal affair which would be in an air-conditioned place.

We later found out that Kermit didn’t work for an Insurance Society, he owned it and was the Boss. We had a similar surprise with another man. We were walking along with two couples on our way to a Rodeo when one of the men asked me If I had a job at home, and I told him, not now, but I worked in a bank for 14 years. Turned out he worked in a bank. Much later someone mentioned that he owned a bank! In the eighties, in a group of men at home it would have been easy to work out who among them were the employers and who the employed, although that could be different now. But in the US groups that we lived among, we seldom could tell where any belonged in the ‘pecking order’, it did indeed seem to be a classless society. The standard of living was way above ours.

The Church was able to do so much for the community because they were well-funded and had no difficulty finding folk to run things and reach out to people who needed help with the difficulties that faced them. Their buildings were in first-rate condition. The Parsonage was looked after by four women members of the Church and when we said we’d like to have a coffee afternoon to say thank you for the wonderful hospitality we had been given, they immediately took over and organised it! We had to remind them often that we were here to work not on holiday.

John went to the Church Office most morning – it was a hive of industry with people coming in and out all the time. He preached twice on Sundays, spoke at the youth groups, and many other groups in several other denominations. We visited summer camps, care homes which were like top-notch hotels, and the UMC Children’s Home in Selma. We went from there to Montgomery where we visited the State Capitol and Martin Luther King’s house. There were occasions with the Senator and others, but we still managed to see a lot of Alabama.

When John wrote his report for Rev. Stanley Leyland after we came home he mentioned that the weather had been a surprise. It was a very unusual summer that year with severe storms and rainfall. Tornados were threatened and we spent occasional time in the ‘safe room’ in the basement when Betty would ring us about a warning, but it didn’t happen. He referred to the preaching mission he was asked to do on our first week. People came in large numbers and he found it an enriching and worthwhile experience which mattered to the Church. He was greatly impressed by the devotion of our people out there. Their giving was generous and they could maintain staff and facilities which we could only dream about. The lay leadership was impressive also: if called upon to pray many of them could respond simply and appropriately. John wasn’t expected to be involved in the administrative side at all, but the marriage of one of his colleagues broke down, there was to be a divorce and he resigned. John was invited to attend and share fully in the various meetings. There were difficulties and snags that gave him the impression that as Pastor he was needed and had helped. He gained an insight into the working of various aspects of how things were done.

We were sad to leave, we were escorted to the airport by a crowd of families, and felt amazed at the love and affection we had received and been given. Our feeling was we should have done this years ago! But we did it again and had wonderful times, and the people we were among liked us and we liked them. But in Alabama the friends loved us and we loved them.

Alabama – part 2

Bugtussle Sheriff

We had a marvellous kitchen with everything, but we hardly needed to use it except for breakfasts. We were invited out for breakfast several times and had pancakes and maple syrup and unlimited coffee. The first evening meal out was to Bugtussle Steakhouse. It was off the beaten track and looked pretty ramshackle inside and out, but they served huge steaks which surpassed any we’d ever had in tenderness and flavour. Our hosts ate all theirs, but we three each took half of ours home in doggy bags, but not for a doggy! It was at Bugtussle we met our first Sheriff and his gun. There is a photo of John being handcuffed but it’s a bit of a blur!

Betty looked after us and arranged our main programme. When Tom heard about all the great stuff John had arranged for them in Newcastle, with transport and many invitations to homes, he rang Betty who sprang into action. Elspeth hung around with Betty’s daughter and her friends, but came with us on most of our outings. Several of the things we three did together stand out. The World Fair was on in Knoxville, Tennessee, that year and we travelled up there on a bus tour and spent two days at the Fair. Elspeth was the guide, she got the plan of the Fair and worked out how we could explore the most Pavilions possible. She did a great job. I still have the red Passport with our picture inside. It was a great experience. On the bus tour we also visited Gatlinburg, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Appalachians).

Another unaccompanied trip was also planned by Elspeth. This time we took the car and John drove us west down to Vicksburg, by the Mississippi, a historic town with ante bellum estates. We visited one, built in 1840, called Cedar Grove Plantation Home. In 1863 it was targeted by Federal gunboats and damaged. Another was McRaven, still lived in as a family home, but also open for visitors. (However, the one I liked best was in Birmingham, Arlington House, built in 1842 and beautifully furnished in period furniture worth a fortune, which I could well believe.) Vicksburg was right by the river and it was a thrill to see the Mississippi calmly flowing along. Some years later we saw it from the air in very different circumstances. After Vicksburg we visited the Natchez Trace Parkway north of Natchez. For a hundred years or more the Old Trail, an Indian Path, was constantly walked on and as a result became a sunken road shaded by trees and Spanish moss which hangs down like pennants from the branches. We saw this moss in many places. The tree roots in the picture show how deeply the path has been worn down. Then we headed towards New Orleans.

We didn’t have to hurry, Elspeth was a great guide and we didn’t get lost. The varied scenery was fascinating although a lot of the journey was on the highways. We had come to think that maybe around four hundred years ago the country was completely forested. Betty and Dan’s ‘back garden’ bore this out as did the Parsonage. (See previous post). We got near to New Orleans just before six pm and suddenly the rain began. It was so heavy we followed the example of other cars and pulled over. It soon stopped and we heard later it happened every evening because Lake Pontchartrain is twenty-four miles across and shallow, so a lot is evaporated by the sun and condenses later in the day. The bridge is the longest in the world.

Our friends in Cahaba Heights weren’t too keen on us going to New Orleans, presumably fearful we might be shocked or corrupted or something! We loved it: it was colourful, cheerful, lively and picturesque and we saw nothing to bring a blush to a maiden’s cheek, even late in the evening. We did the bus tour, the driving and commentary done by a real nice friendly young woman. We sailed in the steamship Natchez a sternwheeler, with a jazz quintet and a calliope organ, great fun! We looked in at Preservation Hall to see the Kid Thomas Band playing real jazz. No liquor or food were served and children were welcome. Just good old jazz! No shock there! There was music all around and the houses and balconies were very attractive. Our only wish was that we could have had more time there.

A relative of Betty worked in State Administration and she took us to the capital, Montgomery, to meet the Governor in his office. Betty had already asked him if he could fix up a visit to the Huntsville Space Centre which was up near the Tennessee border. He arranged for us to have an official car and driver who took us all around and answered all the questions we asked. We saw fragments of the moon kept under glass and the clothes the astronauts wore when they walked on the moon plus the shuttles they travelled in. We experienced the gravity force they had felt. We wondered how they had had the courage to trust themselves to a rocket, leaving their world behind them and knowing there was no turning back. But they got to the moon and they came back and a new era began.

Neil Armstrong was first to step out the shuttle and as he put his foot down on the moon’s surface he said, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Buzz Aldrin followed and they walked around for quite a while gathering samples and information. It was quite weird to watch the little bits of film on TV; believing it was the moon was hard enough to start with, but now we had to worry about them getting back. But they did come home and I doubt if anyone who watched it on TV or in the cinema will have forgotten the relief and pride with which they were greeted. Now ‘spacemen’ are going back and forward to stations high above the Earth and staying for months at a time. Just last week I read in the newspaper that someone has suggested that before this century is near its end this world will have a Colony on Mars as Earth is becoming overcrowded. I find it hard to believe that could happen; but if anyone had told me when I was a girl that, before I was fifty, men would travel to the moon and walk about and send pictures of it, I wouldn’t have believed that either! So who knows what might happen in my granddaughters’ time……

To be concluded….

Alabama – part 1

Our first pastoral exchange with a Methodist Church in the USA was in Birmingham, Alabama. Our partners were Tom and Helen Stevenson and we wrote back and forward fixing dates. We would arrive in Cahaba Heights, a suburb of Birmingham, before they left. John made the travel arrangements and I took care of the packing. Six weeks was a long spell to pack for but we’d have a laundry room so we managed with one large case, plus Elspeth’s. In 1982 you could take a bag onto the plane and we carried John’s books, sermon notes etc. in that, in case our luggage went missing.

Time seemed to fly past. John Platts (who had married Anabel and John and was ‘my’ minister) offered to take us to the airport and see us off and, as we’d have to set off about six am, we were grateful. It meant we didn’t have to leave the minute a taxi arrived, the driver of which may not have come into the house and helped us with our bags as John did. Elspeth was with us as we set off for the big adventure. (We had recently bought a ‘modern washing-machine’, and shortly before we left we got a tumbler-dryer for our visitors’ benefit. When we saw their laundry room we were very thankful we had updated.) The flight to Gatwick was calm and peaceful, we flew over our house, the clouds and the passing scenery were lovely. The journey to Atlanta was the same, although too high up to see the land below. The last flight to Birmingham was just about an hour, or not much more.

We were met by a group of young folk, Tom, Betty Gilmore, church secretary, and Victor the Assistant Parson, all of whom gave us a warm welcome and we liked them from the start. The shock when we stepped out of the air-conditioned airport took our breath away, we had never felt such blistering heat! Betty told us Helen wasn’t quite ready for us and had asked her to bring us the long way home. We had a tour round which included poor estates of both black and white people and gated estates with lovely homes. Victor told us there would be at least two swimming pools and a Club for the residents. Then we arrived at Christopher Court, our home for the next six weeks. Helen was sitting by the table, which was set for a meal, sewing the hems of slacks she said were lent to her by somebody in the church. Talk about laid back, they were leaving next day! Helen showed us our bedrooms which were en suite, and we were glad to freshen up and look forward to a shower later. We were to find that Alabama folk seldom hurried, women ‘sashayed’ elegantly, young people, on the surface at least, were very respectful to their elders and most children were friendly and biddable.

The meal was ready and beside each setting was a small plate of what I took to be dessert, it was green jelly with something in it. However it was actually a ‘congealed salad’ and was eaten with the savoury course. I can’t remember what was in it but I thought it had a horrible name. Their furniture was very much ‘ante bellum’ and most of the houses we visited were similar. I rather wondered what Helen and Tom would think of our place. We later found that everything in the parsonage was provided by the Church and ministers were also paid far in excess of British Methodist Ministers. They would be using our bedroom; we had moved to the guest room which had a small wash basin stuck in a corner and that was it. We were continually struck dumb by how far ahead of us they were in home comforts and how perfect it all seemed to be.

I said the women sashayed, but we quickly learned they accomplished a great deal. The congregation was fully involved. There were over 500 members and each service was well attended. This was the smallest membership of the four churches we served in. There were seven employed staff, Rev Tom, Rev Paul – Minister to Children, Rev Victor the Assistant, Rick – Director of Education and Music, Peggy – Licensed Professional Counsellor, Karen – Preschool Director, and Betty who was Secretary and was the one everybody relied on. Sunday started at 9.45 and finished after 7 p.m. I joined the women’s meeting on Tuesday afternoons and talked about our meetings and what went on and what life was like in the UK in general. There was an adults’ bell ringing class and a children’s one, both good to hear. The pre-school started every weekday at 9.30 as did mothers’ day out. One lot of people kept tag of all the children and another organised classes and outings for the Moms. The kitchen was like nothing I’d ever seen before, everything was stainless steel and spotless. There was a large group of volunteer workers who produced great food. No event ever finished on sandwiches, it was always a real meal. The Church was a car ride from the parsonage and every time we went we passed along Red Mountain Road which had been dug deep and half a mile of it revealed 150,000 years of geological history. A good few folk told us about it and we always noticed it.

There were a couple of days free and we had our first outing on our own to Hurricane Creek Park Canyon, not too long a car ride for a ‘driving on the right’ beginner. There were lots of ‘hazards’ to keep us on the hop including a bridge over the creek which consisted of wooden slats strung on ropes with ropes at either side to hold on to. We had to ‘go easy’ to avoid making it swing. However, Elspeth stood aside to allow John and me to go ahead and when we got to the middle she started swinging the horrible bridge back and forward. If there had been a big drop and deep water we’d have been annoyed but as the water was obviously shallow we clung like limpets to the ropes until we got our equilibrium back. If only she had taken photos. We laughed later! When we were thinking of heading home and just going to go up a long flight of steps, suddenly a torrential shower came on. In seconds we were all totally soaked to the skin having already had a splash or two going down the water chute. It felt good and cooled us down a little. When we got back to the car we were all dry again and just as hot. There was a waterfall, a twilight tunnel and lots of other tricky situations I’ve forgotten. To get out of the Canyon we rode down a steep hill on a rail track sitting in a huge hollowed out log. We enjoyed it all, but were fair worn out with the excitement of all the hazards and the rough ground and the heat.

Next day, John was at the church with the stewards being shown around and meeting the people who would be taking part in the services. Frances Seay asked Elspeth and me out for lunch and to visit some caves. We had a lovely lunch of which the only thing I remember is the side dish. Frances had asked if we’d like one and I said I loved fried onions. When it came it was a huge bowlful enough for three, plus we took some home. My Mum made lovely fried onions but she would have had to agree this lot were even better. They were so crisp and tasty. The caves were full of limestone formations and there were tricky passages and coloured lights. We had a great time. Then when it was nearly time to go the warden said be ready, I’m switching the lights out to let you see what real dark is. It was inky black, not a glimmer. I hoped there were no cockroaches or worse running over my feet. What a relief when the light came on. We were told the Confederate soldiers had used this cave as a hideaway in the War between North and South, presumably with nothing but candles. Hardy souls they must have been.

To be continued….

Back in Newcastle

I can’t remember much about the move to Newcastle, except that we packed most of our china and other small breakables and took them to the new house, the Earl’s having moved out early in the month. We moved mid-August and were more or less organised by the time the Welcome Service came round. There were over 100 Ministers and 25 or more Ministers’ widows in the District. At that time it was probably the largest District in the Connexion and widely spread. The most northerly Church was actually in Scotland at Eyemouth, Haltwhistle was farthest west in Northumberland and south in Co. Durham was Chester-le-Street. John would be doing a lot of travelling, preaching in a different Circuit each week. I went with him to places near enough to get back for lunch. If hospitality was provided I only went if invited, which was quite often. John’s view was that you got to know people best when you met with them in their own homes, and I agreed with him.

As a Church Leader, John now worked alongside the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, the RC Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Moderator, Northern Province United Reform Church, the Superintendent of the North East Area Baptist Union, the District Commander, Northern Division, Salvation Army and the Bishop of Durham. They all got on well together, and for some years visited various areas of the North East to meet folk of all faiths and none. One might have expected some solemnity in such a group, but when they came to our house I found they were a jolly gathering. Very often we had large groups, e.g. when Presidents came, and then we had a buffet meal using cardboard plates which were tossed in a bin bag. There was lots of food set out in the kitchen and hall and everybody got a chance to meet the guest and enjoy their supper on a chair, if lucky, with the younger folk sitting on the stairs! Other times were ‘round the table’. Fortunately we had two tables, one a drop-leaf, so we were able to have ten seated or, with our table-trolley, twelve. It was a busy life for us both. My cooking skills improved a lot in these years, but sometimes it was a relief to have just one or two couples and cater from M&S!

After the first year I became a more regular attender at West Avenue Methodist Church and enjoyed being part of one of the Coffee Groups which met in each other’s homes monthly. I was also able to go to the Guild at West Avenue, and gave a talk of some sort when asked. By then it wasn’t the ordeal it once was! Every Tuesday, I was at Brunswick Church in the town, helping overseas students’ wives of many nationalities to improve or begin to learn English. It was something I treasured very much. I had several Japanese women for some years, they were the wives of men in the car industry, not students. They liked being in the UK because, compared to Japan, their husbands worked fewer hours, spent more time with their families and the wives had more freedom. I hoped the women would be strong when they went home and manage to keep their ‘freedom’! They knew more about English grammar than I did, having forgotten most of it. However, their aim was to speak like the British did. I think I did pretty well with that and we had some very happy ‘lessons’. I think they liked the opportunity to meet with us and be friendly. The most remote area I had a ‘pupil’ from was Mongolia, she had come with her husband and had never travelled before. I had a lot of cookery books and usually asked young women if they had an English cookery book and, if not, gave them one. This led to various discussions about ingredients, meals they made at home, shopping, what they liked and disliked in food, etc., and got us going. We talked about their homes, the differences in their terrain from ours and everything we could think of. Some questioned me about my life and family, and asked why I spoke differently from the other teachers! Just by talking together, their English-speaking became more ‘free’ and it was a real pleasure for me to see them speak out with more confidence.

With Elspeth in Birmingham

Near the end of 1981 John had a phone call one morning, and came to tell me it had been the minister who arranged Pastoral Exchanges with Methodist Churches in the USA. He had asked if John would like to do an exchange at Tallahassee, state capital of Florida. ‘What did you say?’ I asked. ‘I said no’, replied John. ‘Without even asking me?’ said I. So we talked about it and thought, might as well get the details. The US Minister was also called Mitchell and had applied late. We decided to accept it after conferring with our Stewards who were all in favour, provided John arranged it all and provided cover for his absence for six weeks.

So – big adventure coming up! John started arranged preaching appointments in various parts of the District with hospitality and other outings. David MacDonald agreed to become Deputy Chairman for the period. Then we had a phone call from the exchange arranger to tell us Mr. Mitchell had looked at the map and found Newcastle was too far away from London. He had withdrawn from the arrangement! However, there was another had become vacant at Cahaba Heights, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, if we still wanted to go. Talk about working out for the best! It was the best of our four exchanges. Anabel, John and Elspeth planned to come for some of the time, but Anabel and John bought a house so decided not to. Elspeth came with us and stayed the whole time which was great. There were several girls a bit younger than she was with whom she went around, but found little in common with them partly because of the age gap. John and I were very taken aback to be addressed as sir and ma’am, by some of the young folk! They were all nice people but different! So once again I’ll veer off track and write about Alabama next time – after a summer blogging break.

More about holidays

Altenfeld, Hochsauerland

We still visited Greenock while any of our parents were still there, and later stayed with Annabel and Jim. They brought my Dad to stay with us when they were going on holiday.  We had several holidays in Scarborough with the girls and later on our own. One of John’s colleagues had a flat in Seascale in Cumbria which he let us have one summer. We enjoyed a leisurely week there walking along the beach every day where I picked up interesting looking stones (one of my idiosyncrasies) which I took home and put on the flower tubs. Someone commented on them and I said where I’d found them, to be asked, ‘Might they not be radio-active coming from so near the nuclear place?’ What a thought! So I dug a trench along the edge of the lawn and planted them all. Unless the garden has been remodelled they are probably still there.

Joe, Jean and Joy

We had left Consett, regretfully in my case, in 1980 and now lived in the Newcastle District Chairman’s Manse. From there we had other breaks and memorable holidays – particularly memorable in 1985 not only because of where we went, but also because Anabel and John had actually asked us to go on holiday with them, which we thought was marvellous! John had married a couple in Consett some years earlier – Joy was a Consett lass and Hans-Jürgen was a German friend of her family. Anabel had translated the marriage ceremony into German so that his family could follow the service and John and I were at the wedding which was a great day. They went off to Altenfeld in the Sauerland of Germany and in time Joy learned his language. Eventually they started a Guest House and Anabel’s suggestion was that we all went there in our car, which was a bit bigger and more comfortable than theirs at that time. Well who could refuse an offer like that?

North Sea Ferry 1985

We sailed via the North Sea Ferry to Rotterdam. The whole journey was great and it was an ideal holiday. Haus Renate was lovely and we were made to feel part of the family. By then, Joy’s parents, Jean and Joe, had moved to Germany and they were great fun. We were there for a fortnight and were sorry to leave. The food was marvellous including vegetarian options for Anabel. There were lovely little villages full of flowers, and John and I were content to see the other two off in the car while we strolled to the next village and had  coffee and cake, and walked round the little cemeteries so beautifully looked after with flowers everywhere.

Other days we all went off in the car. We went to Schmallenberg to ‘Fort Fun’, where there were carousels and all sorts of things to do such as sliding down an 853 yard long chute on mats and a rotating cylinder in which the g-force pinned you to the wall so that you couldn’t move a finger! We enjoyed the torrent system that whooshed down into a lake and gave us all a soaking. We were all exhausted by teatime!

The scenery and the architecture were spectacular. Winterberg was the nearest town and had lots of interest. It was bilberry harvesting time in the country roundabout. The nearest small village was Bödefeld which John and I walked to several times. The Wassertretstelle (a sort of paddling pool) at Altenfeld was amusing – but cold! People were friendly and always called a greeting. Another walk was down the zigzag path through the forest to Siedlinghausen where we had lunch, sat in the sun with our books and got back for dinner. All very relaxing. Days out with Anabel and John were to Nordenau in the rain, then to Oberkirchen and Attendorn where there were weird and wonderful limestone caves to see. We also visited a lead mine. Another day was to Paderborn which has a 13th century cathedral and many lovely black and white houses. At Meschede we sailed on the Hennesee Dam and lunched on board. Fredeburg was a day out, as was Bonn where we visited Beethoven’s house, and so on. We had a good day in Cologne and spent time in the Cathedral. There were so many lovely churches and cathedrals we didn’t have time to do them all justice.

Going back to the ‘digs’ in the evening was a pleasure, always a superb meal and each one a happy occasion. In particular there was one when Joe waited on us wearing a very saucy apron! I haven’t really done justice to this holiday but it was one of the best holidays we ever had. I doubt John and I would never have been so adventurous as to make such a journey on our own. We were happy to wander around the little villages while the other two were more adventurous with the car. And just as happy to join them on some of the ‘touring’. It worked well for us all.

Sadly, Joe died some years ago but Jean and I still email each other now and again and keep up to date with the state of our health and other things!


In conversation with Anabel the other week she mentioned that I had never said much about holidays. So I thought I’d veer off and give them a mention! Our first holiday was a few days at my parents in Greenock just after Christmas 1956. There were so many Christmas events and services in Haltwhistle we couldn’t have been away then, much as we would like to have been. It was great to see everybody. We were able to tell both families that I was about 10 weeks pregnant which was well received! Anabel was born on 16th July, and I went to Greenock in late August with the pram loaded with the luggage and carrying the baby. John came to Carlisle with me and saw me on the train and my Dad met me at Glasgow. John followed in a few days and we came home together after about 10 days. We stayed with my parents or John’s each year. We always enjoyed trips on the steamers to Dunoon, Rothesay etc. and always seemed to get good weather!

We had holidays in Scarborough and enjoyed all the theatres; also in Grange-over-Sands where we rented a flat which was intended for use by ministers and families who had been ill and needed rest. When not required, we were able to have it a couple of times. Anabel did a school exchange with Susanne in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, but we never went abroad as a family.

One of John’s College tea club got us a week in the caravan at the family farm at Culgaith in the Lake District. It was a lovely area and we had some great trips including a memorable one when the rain came down in torrents and we had to stop and wait till it went off as the wipers couldn’t cope. The girls thought it was great fun! On each of our stays in the flat at Grange we had more great fun. It was our first car, a Ford Anglia, second or more hand and quite elderly! Anabel and Elspeth would be about 8 and 5. Half way up a very steep hill the engine stopped. We all got out. There was a steep grassy bank and I sent the girls up to the top away from the road, then found stones to put behind the wheels being convinced it would run away downhill! Then I climbed up beside the children. After a bit, a car stopped and a nice Japanese couple took John on to the nearest garage. The deserted females played I Spy etc., and again it was good fun! The next time was the same, the car just wouldn’t go. This time, a man who stopped found he was going to the same place as we were so he towed us. When we arrived at the flat he untied us and said to John “Just try the engine” – which he did and it came to life straight away! It really was funny and we all had to laugh. I don’t remember it ever happening again.


After the Anglia we had a Morris Traveller (seen here with Anabel coming back from school camp). Then a fellow minister told John about a Methodist garage owner in Yorkshire who found reliable older cars for clergy and arranged for us to go there. To our amazement, he had a Vauxhall Cavalier for us if we would like it. It was so spacious and comfortable. He told us the price and what he would knock off for the Anglia and suggested we went off and had some lunch and think about it. We decided to go for it and so began a succession of Cavaliers. Later, when we lived in Consett, he appeared at our door one day and said it was time we had a change. Fortunately our ‘car fund’ was able to pay the price and off he went with the old car. Ministers were given a travel allowance and we always just put it in the car fund towards the next car.

When we retired we came to Paisley with a Cavalier but wanted a smaller car. The local dealer sold us a great Vauxhall Astra. We tried the Corsa, but the passenger seat wasn’t comfortable and we liked the slightly bigger car better. We got a great deal and for the first time ever had a new car that wasn’t second hand! It had been the manager’s car but had been little used. It was a trouble free car, and when John gave up driving Anabel bought it and it is still in good order. I don’t think we ever got over the thrill of actually having a car and enjoying all the great outings and holidays we had with it!

Mixed feelings

Chairman’s manse

Life was full at Consett and our time there brought changes in our lives. However we seemed settled for a good few years to come. One day, John and Mark Earl were meeting at the Chairman’s Manse to discuss District business. (John was Synod Secretary.) Edna asked me to come along (which gave us the chance to do some shopping in Newcastle in the afternoon). She and I were sitting in the garden with our coffee when she asked me if I liked this Manse. I said it seemed very nice and she went on to say Mark thought John might be his successor as Chairman. Talk about a bombshell! My first reaction was horror. But it was another occasion when I couldn’t say ‘No’ to the idea. John had been in several District offices and was an excellent Synod Secretary. If people in the District thought he’d be a worthy successor to Mark Earl I should be pleased.

There were several candidates, at least one senior to John, and it was a slow process of committees etc. One day the phone rang and John came to tell me he had been nominated, so if Conference agreed he would become Chairman of Newcastle District in September 1980. I learned later that if he had not been chosen he would have been put on the list for Chairman of the Scotland District. When I had afternoon tea with Teddy Pearson I tried to work myself up to tell her but it was only as I was on the doorstep leaving I managed to voice it with tears streaming down my cheeks. She thought it was wonderful and John would be an excellent Chairman. All I could say was that we’d have to leave Consett! I was glad for John but had mixed feelings about it. However we had always ‘taken what we were given’ at each move. John was never voted against, he knew when it was time to leave and we trusted providence to put us in the right situation, which always seemed to fit is well.

John as Chairman

I got used to the idea with a lot of misgiving as to how I would cope. Edna had been very prominent in the District but I couldn’t live up to that! I carried on as always looking after the household and John, but also becoming his Secretary and Social Organiser. No easy task: we had many dinner parties and larger gatherings. We had every Minister and his partner to dinner except one who was a bachelor and was also anti-Chairmen! All the Presidents of Conference stayed with us, and some of the Vice-Presidents. Instead of being the ‘Minister’s wife’ I was the ‘Chairman’s wife’ and felt like a loose thread at first. However I became a member at West Avenue Methodist Church and was immediately invited to one of the regular coffee groups. We had a lovely farewell evening at Consett; Anabel and Elspeth were both there and my mixed feelings ran riot! But as always, we settled down and became accustomed to the new way of things. John threw himself into the job like a duck to water. My first ‘ordeal’ was having Rev Kenneth Greet and his wife stay with us the first year. He was Secretary of the Conference and was President in 1980/81. He was the top Officer in the Church and I was quite overcome at the thought of having him stay with us. John had a programme of services and visits for them and I was included to accompany Mary. How on earth would I get time to cook meals? I needn’t have worried, they turned out to be just normal friendly folk and we had a lovely few days with them which I expressed in one of my poems. We had another 12 or 13 Presidents to stay and none of them were haughty or condescending.

Wednesday morning

My goodness, what a time we had

Dusting and polishing and tidying away,

Full of trepidation,

Making preparation,

For the President of the Conference

And his wife to come and stay!

What a busy weekend it was,

Four, five or six engagements every day,

Wonderful occasions,

Full of inspiration,

When the President of Conference

And Mary came to stay!

After an early breakfast,

We drove them to the station and saw them on their way.

Now we’ve come back

A little bit flat,

Because Kenneth and Mary,

Our friends, have gone away!



On the April 10th episode I had meant to say a word about two of the pictures. One echoed the previous picture of my Dad sitting beside the walled weedy ground at The Crescent where there had once been a greenhouse. By our second year we had laid some turf and planted marigolds, one of my favourite flowers, and other colourful flowers and shrub as we had done in front of the conservatory. It was a fine wee sheltered corner to sit and read or just sit! John is pictured there with Mandy in 1974. The other picture shows John and Mandy outside our Villa Real Road house some years later and the difference in Mandy is very obvious.