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.
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.