Tag Archives: love

Just Max and me. Adventures Day 1

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I cannot believe it was six years ago that I was first entrusted with my grandson Alfie, while his parents were at work. I loved it and created Adventures with Alfie, chronicling the fun times we had together. He will soon be at an age where he can read the accounts for himself – I hope he loves them.

History is about to repeat itself and every Friday for the next few months it will be ‘Just Max and me’.  This will be fun!

Max, like Alfie, is something special. He was born to parents who were at one time told that they had ‘little or no chance of ever conceiving and raising children’. God had other ideas and Alfie came first and then Max made a surprise but very welcome appearance. He is eighteen months old now and a real ‘character’. He is happy, loving and possesses a smile that reminds me of a sunrise on a beautiful summer day. At this age he wants to know everything about everything, pick up everything within reach – the breakable ones interesting him most and several things have to be moved to safer places before his arrival.

 

I love him.

The Blue Fairy once told Pinocchio, ‘Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy. I hope that the times we spend together, just Max and me, will help him along that road.I always try and remember that a real boy is the only thing that God can use to make a real man.

Max arrived early with his mum and brother, we had breakfast together with his cousins before walking to school. I love those days.

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In the school yard we met up with another Max – someone who is so famous his name is on every cooker and record player in the world – so he says!!

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After the drop offs and kisses Max, and I walked to the shops before heading across to visit Eli and Elsie. We were greeted by a yapping Mash who welcomed us in!

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Max and Eli had a great time playing together with the trains and Eli’s wigwam.

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After a while we headed home, as we were going into Cardiff to give Max some valuable lessons on the place of his birth.

Before we went Max had time for a  little relax, a quick drink

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and then I taught him all about the biscuit tin!

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After his quick snack, he walked into the children’s room, patted the television saying ‘Cho choo!” He spent the next half hour glued to a YouTube video of the best steam trains of 2016 and 2015. Epic stuff! We sat together for most of that time, just Max and me.

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I’ve worked out now that the best way into and out of Cardiff with a pushchair is train in and bus out. Catching the 95 bus into town is something of a lottery because if there is already a pushchair on board, having a second one can cause a bit of a fuss. It’s possible you would have to let the bus go without you if it’s full. Coming home the 304 bus from Custom House Street always has space as that is the terminus and you can get in the pushchair space nice and early.

Max enjoyed the train ride in, but between the Central Station and Queen Street Station he dozed off. Not good! He was going to miss some valuable lessons. Getting off at Queen Street made me remember what a great station it used to be. Now it’s a soul-less piece on concrete. Years ago it had class and atmosphere, but in their wisdom the city planners pulled it down. That was an act of Social Vandalism.

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We got off and made our way along Queen Street and popped into a few shops. Max slept on…

Lunchtime was approaching and I had hoped we would eat together but as I was passing Greggs, the pushchair developed a fault and violently swerved to the left. I felt compelled to stop and sample some of Greggs finest wares, giving the pushchair a chance to correct itself.

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I had a Steak slice and a carton of fresh soup – chicken, butternut squash and greens. It was exquisite! The soup had a slight ‘aromatic’ taste which was beautiful and anyone who has ever eaten a Gregg’s Steak Slice will know it’s the nearest thing to heaven this side of the veil. Max slept on.

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We then made our way to the market so I could show Max Ashton’s Fish counter and the butchers in the far left hand corner of the market hall. Both are legendary places in my humble opinion. Every child should spend as much time as possible looking and learning and being fascinated by these great shops.

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Max slept on…

Had he been awake I would have shown him the pigs’ heads, the ox hearts and the sheep testicles, as well as the massive beef bones. This butcher wastes not a thing. One day I must try cow cheeks he has on sale, although my days of eating tongue have sadly passed. Growing up we often had all kinds of strange meat – liver, stuffed hearts and rabbit, but I only ever saw my dad eat brains once – only ever once!! I can’t think why!

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As we were leaving the market  the little man stirred and a street musician nearby playing loudly helped him wake up. But the timing was good, we were nearing Howells, where I had planned to take lunch.

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If you know Howells you will know the second floor restaurant which has a wonderful play area for the kids. Sadly the shop’s days are numbered, Howells will soon become block of apartments and this historic building will no longer be  a part of the lives of Cardiffians as it has been for generations. (I hope they save the church hidden with its walls!)

We made our way to the second floor where Max enjoyed the lovely lunch his dad and mum had prepared. While the rest of the shop appeared empty the restaurant area was quite full of young mums and some families all with at least one little person with them. It was so lovely. We made a rather an inglorious entrance. I found a place quite near the counter, collected a high chair for Max, but as I lifted him out of the pushchair, the weight of his bags made the pushchair tip backwards and as it did it knocked a chair over which made a terrible racket! For a few brief seconds chaos reigned. All eyes turned to see what was happening with this little old fat chap with the cute little boy. I think I got away with a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes.

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Max enjoyed his lunch immensely, but kept looking over his shoulder at the other little kids playing quietly. He obviously wanted to get down with them, which he eventually did. He was great and played quietly with the others and when it was time, he sat quietly back in his pushchair as we made our way to catch the two o’clock 304 bus back home.

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It was the bus journey home that in many ways was the highlight of the day. We got on and parked the pushchair and immediately Max wanted to get out. Was this the best course of action for a one year old on a bus ride home? Absolutely!

Max loved it! He loved looking out of the window and waving at anyone who passed.

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He stood up on he seat and waved at all the other passengers on the bus and all the passengers on the bus waved back. His smile lit up the whole place. He then proceeded to play ‘peek-a-boo’ with the middle aged couple in the seat behind. He would duck down behind the seat and look up at them between the handle. It was so cute! He had a fit of the giggles, which lasted much of the way home. Most of the bus waved to him as we got off.

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When we got home he walked straight into the children’s room patted the television and said ‘Choo-choo!’ I sat on the settee, patted the settee beside me and my little friend came and sat quietly beside me.

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Dad arrived soon after and Max was bundled into the van to pick up his big brother.

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It was such a lovely day, I’m sixty five and half years older than him, but we had such a special time…

Just Max and me.

 

 

My Life in Five Books

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Once upon a time, many years ago I learnt to read. It was, on reflection, one of the best things I ever did. I love books, but I openly confess I am far from the world’s best reader.

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Despite owning hundreds of books, I often find my time reading for pleasure is limited to holidays and breaks away.

For forty years I helped and encouraged hundreds of children to discover the joy of reading, with some I succeeded, with others…well, I am not too sure. All I hope is that they all knew that I loved reading.

I had the idea of ‘My Life in Five Books’ from a series on Cardiff TV (Sky 137) which runs a series called ‘My Life in Five Pictures’, in which celebrities are asked to show five pictures which sum up their lives. It’s a great watch! So, I thought of the idea of this. Later I came across a series called My Life in Books It thought it only ran for a few programmes, but Google just told me there were two series of ten episodes! Who knew?

Before I start, here’s a list of some of those I considered carefully but decided did not reach top five status. For some it was a close thing….

  • Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
  • Poems that make Grown Men Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • The Journals of Jim Elliot by Elisabeth Elliot
  • Narziss and Goldmund by Herman Hesse
  • A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  • The Barry Scrapyard by Allen Warren
  • Boy by David Wagner
  • The Vicar of Nibbleswick by Roald Dahl
  • Heard in the Playground by Alan Ahlberg
  • The Johnny Morris Storybook – a BBC publication
  • The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett

…and really a host of others, too numerous to mention and I guess if I sat down and complied the list again in a month or two, some of these would be included!

So here we go… My Life in Five Books.

Counting down.

 

Number 5.              

Emil and The Detectives by Erich Kästner

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This was the first book I ever remember reading right through. I must have been about eight or nine. It’s the most wonderful story and one which I read many times to the children in my various classes. There are updated versions around, but the original seems to hold some kind of magic that newer versions seem to lack. This version has the selling price when new of 20p. My previous edition which fell apart was priced at one shilling (1/-)

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It’s about a young boy called Emil.

Emil Tischbein is a boy who lives in a small town and he who has to take some money by train to his grandmother, who lives in the big city, Berlin. They are quite poor. He is being brought up by a single mother, his dad has died. She has to work as a decidedly un-posh hairdresser with her front room used as her salon. Emil is anxious about the money in his pocket on the train, so much so that he pins the money to the inside pocket of his jacket.

He’s also anxious about a crime he’s committed. When he was out one day with his friends, he drew a moustache on the face of the town statue of the Grand Duke Charles.

On the way to Berlin, Emil sits in a carriage with an odd-looking man, Herr Grundeis, and though he tries to avoid it happening, Emil falls asleep. When he wakes up, his money has gone and so has Herr Grundeis.

In the rest of the story, we live with Emil’s swirling emotions, his meetings with a group of boys in Berlin, who, together with Emil set out on the trail of of Grundeis. The reason why Emil doesn’t involve the police is because he fears exposure as the criminal who daubed the Grand Duke’s statue. Emil and the boys end up catching the man who they knew had done it, and then in a great way prove his guilt to unbelieving adults after the capture. (It’s the pin holes in the notes….)

It was an instant hit when it was published in 1928, and three years later it was adapted into a film, which itself was innovative in the realistic acting of child actors and the use of “synch” sound on location on the streets of Berlin. The book has been translated and adapted thousands of times.

It is, of course, a pre-Nazi book, and the Nazis didn’t quite know what to do with the book, or Kästner. They burned some of his books, yet he stayed in Germany throughout the Third Reich. They didn’t ban Emil – but they competed with it by publishing a story of a martyred hero of the Hitler Youth.

Between the writing of Emil and the Detectives and me reading it, lay the disaster that Kästner feared, The Second World War.  No one knew at the time that the boy actors of the German and British versions of the films ended up in armed forces fighting each other.

 

Number 4.            

Singing Away the Hunger by Mpho ‘M’atsepo Nthunya

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This is a truly incredible book with a wonderfully touching story behind it. I came across the book while Googling stuff about the country of Lesotho. A friend of mine moved there in 1990 and I visited in 2000. I then became involved in school twinning, as Wales and Lesotho are twinned counties – incidentally the world’s first twinned counties. I made numerous other visits to The Mountain Kingdom and I later became involved with an organisation called Dolen Cymru which encouraged linking activities. I was chair of the Education Committee and helped many teachers set up school links.

I bought the book from Amazon and it blew me away.

Nthunya, a Lesotho elder and matriarch, spent three decades as a domestic worker supporting eleven people on her income. At the University of Natal, she met and befriended Kathryn Kendall, an American writer.  They became friends and the two collaborated to record Nthunya’s life story.

Nthunya was born in 1930. Impoverished as a child, she often lacked clothing, shoes, and food, occasionally having to eat grass. She was able to freely attend Catholic grade school in South Africa, ultimately learning to read and speak eight languages. She modelled her life and faith on that of her Roman Catholic mother, but also maintained traditional beliefs in magic, witch doctors and illness-causing spells. As an adult, Nthunya dealt with the death of her husband, and the murders of father, brother, and children. Despite these hardships, Nthunya maintained a “love of natural beauty, as well as her sense of humour, hope, and dreams.”

In loosely connected episodes, including stories passed to her from her mother, Nthunya describes the difficult life facing many Basotho women, who must deal with a choice between the dangers, hardships, and degrading working conditions of city life as an indigenous African under apartheid and the challenges of traditional rural life. In the Basotho community, women often face child mortality, forced marriage and domestic abuse. Illness and starvation are constant threats, and these are compounded by what Nthunya describes as the destructive force of jealousy in impoverished communities. Despite this, Nthunya chose in 1949 to move her family away from city life under apartheid to her rural homeland, so that they could learn the traditions of their people. The cultural conflict between city and rural life, and between Western and traditional culture, are a major theme of the book.

She was cheated, robbed and many times bereaved, but she never lost her courage her resilience and her spirit of independence.

Customs and rituals are a constant guiding force in Basotho life. The Basotho society is a patriarchal one: marriages were arranged without concern for women’s preferences, and women are responsible for childcare and management of the household but may receive little financial support. They live under the control of their husbands or male relatives, including their children. Women who are unable to bear children are stigmatised.  With no power over men, women in Basotho society often oppress and victimize their sisters. However, Nthunya cherished the female friendships she had in Basotho society.

I was so taken with how the story came to be written and the wonderful insight into life of the country I loved, that I made efforts to contact Limakatso Kendall, the lady who recognised Nthunya’s natural ability as a story teller and persuaded her to tell stories about her life.

It wasn’t a difficult task and I made contact via the Publishers and since then Limakatso and I have become firm Facebook friends. Such is the power and GOOD use of Facebook. We were strangers but are now friends who have never met each other but share family news and a love of all things Lesotho. I will be forever grateful to her for getting this wonderful ‘history’ book written.

Singing Away the Hunger is a simple book but a great one. It forces us to question our own values and those of society. Through the voice of one poor African woman, it reaches out to people of all races, classes and background; to the educated and to people like Mpho herself. She has much to teach us all.

During my trips to Lesotho I longed to be able to meet her and I so regret I never made more of an effort to make it happen.

Sadly, Mpho passed away recently but the legacy she has left is incredible.

 

Number 3.

Seasons of Life by Charles Swindoll

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I simply had to include something by Charles Swindoll. I have two shelves full of only his books!IMG_2655

Chuck is an American pastor and writer, who I discovered in the pre-digital age. His teaching programmes are now widely available on Sky and TuneIn, but when I started listening he was only available on Trans World Radio on a short-wave radio, beamed from Monte Carlo. In those days the signal would be very intermittent and if you got 20 minutes out of the thirty, it was a good day and obviously the wind was blowing in your favour. A better place to pick it up was in France, so holidays were spent getting up early and rotating the transistor radio through 360 degrees till we heard the theme tune, then we didn’t breathe for half an hour! Happy Times!

This book is well worn and contains 144 daily readings covering the four seasons of the year, challenging and encouraging you to discover what’s truly important in life. The book encourages you to take time to deepen your roots in the soil of God’s love and grace through every season of the year and indeed of life!

My favourite reading is entitled ‘Building Memories’ and tells a great story about a dad who told his family he was too busy to join them on their holiday, blaming an excessive workload. However, he helped them plan the trip carefully, knowing where they would be each day. What he didn’t tell them was that he was secretly planning to join them and one day, a little into the holiday, there he was standing on the road hitch hiking as his family drove past. Apparently, his family shouted…’Hey look at that chap there he looks just like…. DAD!!!!’

When questioned the creative father said that one day he was going to be dead and when that happened he wanted his wife and kids to remember a dad who was full of fun and surprises.

Chuck says,

 “The beautiful music of living is composed, practised and perfected in the harmony of home. The freedom to laugh long and loud, the encouragement to participate in creative activities, the spontaneity of relaxed relationships that plant memories and deepen our roots in the rich, rare soil of authentic happiness”.

I hope my kids can remember me in a way something like this!

 

 

Number 2.

Boy by Roald Dahl

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My favourite children’s book without doubt. I’m not so sure it’s only a children’s book, as anybody of any age will enjoy reading this. I have spent countless hours reading this book to different generations of children.

It is quite simply superb!

This is how Wikipedia sums up the book:

Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) is an autobiographical book by British writer Roald Dahl. It describes his life from birth until leaving school, focusing on living conditions in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, the public school system at the time, and how his childhood experiences led him to writing as a career. It ends with his first job, working the Shell Company.

 

Dahl himself introduces the book by saying;

‘An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten. Some are funny, some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly.

All are true!’

I apologise profusely to all the wonderful children I taught before 1984, when the book was published. I wish I could turn back time and sit and read the book to you. Sadly, that is not possible. Here’s just a few of the main events in the book

Family tragedy

When Roald was three years old, his seven-year-old sister Astri died of an infection from a burst appendix. Only weeks later, Roald’s father died of pneumonia. Roald Dahl suggests his father died of grief from the loss of his daughter. Roald’s mother was forced to choose between moving the family to Norway with her relatives or relocating to a smaller house in Wales to continue the children’s education in the United Kingdom, which is what her husband wanted.

Primary school

Roald started at the Elm Tree House Primary School in Cardiff when he was 6 years old. He was there for a year but has few memories of his time there because it was so long ago.

Sweets

Roald writes about different confectionery, his love of sweets, his fascination with the local sweet shop and in particular about the free samples of Cadbury chocolate bars given to him and his schoolmates for when he was a student at Repton School.Young Dahl dreamt of working as an inventor for Cadbury, an idea he has said later inspired Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  Some of the sweets sold at Mrs Pratchett’s sweet shop were Sherbet fountains, pear drops and liquorice boot laces.

Great mouse plot of 1924

This is my favourite bit…. Mrs Pratchet has become a dear friend of mine! From the age of eight, Dahl attended Llandaff Cathedral School in Cardiff. He and his friends had a grudge against the local sweet-shop owner, Mrs Pratchett, a sour, elderly widow who gave no thought to hygiene. They played a prank on her by placing a dead mouse in a gobstopper jar while his friend Thwaites distracted her by buying sweets. They were caned by the headmaster as a punishment.

Mrs Pratchett, who attended the canings, was not satisfied after the first stroke was delivered and insisted the headmaster should cane much harder which he did: six of the hardest strokes he could muster, while Mrs Pratchet beamed with great delight as each boy suffered their punishment.

St Peter’s School, Weston-super-Mare.

Roald attended St Peter’s School, a boarding school in Weston Super Mare from 1925, when he was nine, to 1929. He describes having received six strokes of the cane after being accused of cheating at his classwork. In the essay about the life of a penny, he claims that he still has the essay and that he had been doing well until the nib of his pen broke – fountain pens were not accepted. He had to ask his classmate for another one, when Captain Hardcastle heard him and accused him of cheating. Many of the events he describes involved the matron. She once sprinkled soap shavings into Tweedie’s mouth to stop his snoring. She also sent a six-year-old boy, who allegedly had thrown a sponge across the dormitory, to the headmaster. Still in his pyjamas and dressing gown, the little boy then received six strokes of the cane. Wragg, a boy in Roald’s dormitory, sprinkled sugar over the corridor floor so they could hear that the matron was coming when she walked upon it. When the boy’s friends refused to turn him in, the whole school was punished by the headmaster who confiscated the keys to their tuck boxes containing food parcels which the pupils had received from their families. At the end he returns home to his family for Christmas. The descriptions of the matron’s bosom are legendary!

Repton and Shell Oil Company

After St Peter’s, Roald’s mother entered him for either Marlborough or Repton, but he chose Repton because it was easier to pronounce. It is soon revealed Marlborough might have been a better choice: life at Repton was a living Hell. The prefects, named Boazers as was the school tradition, were utmost sadists and patrolled the school like secret police. The headmaster, Dahl describes an occasion when his friend received several brutal strokes of the cane from the headmaster as punishment for misbehaviour. Despite this infernal school, Dahl did make friends with the Maths professor and a boy named Michael. Even one of the Boazers, Williamson, took a liking to Dahl, despite this being punishment for Dahl’s tardiness, Williamson was impressed by how Dahl warmed his lavatory seat that he hired him as his personal ‘bog seat warmer’. Dahl also excelled in sports and photography, something he says impressed various masters at the school.

Wonderful, wonderful wonderful!

 

Number 1                

The Bible

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By far and away my favourite book and the one that has had the most profound effect on my life is The Bible.

I’m going to leave it to The Gideons to give a summary of what this amazing book is all about. They are far more eloquent than I will ever be.

The Bible is a book all about God’s relationship with us. It offers us an opportunity to meet with Him and get the direction we need to live life to the full. The Bible has provided hope and inspiration for generations and continues to be a worldwide best seller, with sales outstripping any other book ever published.

The Bible is actually a collection of 66 different books and letters, written over a period of some 1,500 years up to about 100 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. It is divided into the Old Testament (the first 39 books) and the New Testament (the last 27 books). The word testament means covenant or agreement, so the Bible shows how God’s old agreement, based on the ‘covenant of law,’ is superseded by is new ‘covenant of grace’ – as shown in The New Testament.

The first 39 books of the Bible tell the story of God’s creation, man’s rebellion and prophesy the coming of Christ. The beauty of creation that we read about in the first few chapters of Genesis, the first book in The Old Testament, is an expression of God’s love for us. This is closely followed by the account of mankind’s disobedience and the consequences of it.

There are numerous historical texts and considerable archaeological evidence to corroborate the stories of natural disaster, warfare and empire that we read in The Old Testament, but it’s not merely a historical account. The Old Testament has a lot to teach us about the struggle of human nature. This ongoing tension between man and God is written about beautifully in the books of poetry and wisdom, such as Proverbs and Song of Solomon. Here, we get an insight into the pain, anger and struggle of life, along with the joy, love and passion.

Whilst the Old Testament is largely concerned with life before Christ, there are also 17 books of prophecy, from Isaiah to Malachi, that look forward to the future. These books speak of God’s judgement on his people, but they also foretell the coming of Christ and offer a glimpse of a new covenant with God.

The second section of the Bible starts with the four Gospels and the book of Acts, where we learn about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The New Testament is the foundation of the Christian faith because it’s here that we see the prophecy of The Old Testament fulfilled.

God sent Jesus, his own son, to pay for our sins, so that we can have eternal life. It’s the ultimate love story, where we get the most wonderful insight into God’s character and His incredible gift of grace. Just as stories from The Old Testament have been corroborated by historians and archaeological evidence, so too are the stories of Jesus and his friends.

Following the Gospels are 21 letters, from Romans to Jude, written from followers of Jesus in the years after his death. They tell of the everyday struggles of Christians and the growth of the early church. In the accounts we see early Christians challenging tradition, enduring persecution and encouraging one another practically and spiritually as they seek to live like Jesus.

The Bible ends with the book of Revelation, which describes the future of God’s people in heaven and the final defeat of evil. It offers a glimpse of eternal life and reinforces the warnings about the consequences of rejecting God’s light and love.

The Bible was written by lots of different people, from different walks of life, who lived in different places and eras. They are biographers, historians, philosophers and writers of theology, poetry, adventure, travel and romance who were all inspired by God.

What’s incredible is that, while most of the authors had no contact with each other, as you read through the 66 books, the similar themes and unity becomes apparent. The Bible is one whole book and no part is complete on its own. It’s a story of God’s love for us, our rebellion and God’s infinite grace to win us back.

The Bible is often referred to by Christians as the manual for life. In Jesus, we have the perfect role model to follow. He offered an alternative way of life, where the poorest were the most important, it was more important to put others before yourself and hope lay not in money and status, but in God.

The Bible also shows us characters who, like us, are deeply flawed. There are plenty of heroes in the Bible that God uses for His glory, in spite of their weaknesses. In this sense, it’s the most remarkable story of hope. The Bible has consistently challenged and transformed the lives of its readers, offering guidance through even the darkest of circumstances. It’s a book for all people, for all time.

The Bible, or parts of it, has now been translated into more than 2,300 languages and dialects. There are even recent translations and paraphrases to help current generations access its wisdom in language that’s relevant and applicable today.

You don’t need to be a historian, an academic or even a Christian to read the Bible. It was written by ordinary people for ordinary people and has the power to inform, reform and transform lives.

Whatever situation or circumstances you’re in, chances are you’ll read about it in the Bible. It’s brutally honest in places, offering an incredible insight into the way that God can work with us, through us and in us. But the Bible’s overarching message is one of hope – that through Jesus Christ we have the promise of eternal life. It’s a promise that has given countless people new strength and an unerring purpose for life.                                                           Credit: The Gideons

I am currently trying to read all 66 books of the Bible over the course of a year. I started in January and hope to complete it before the end of 2018. This version is interesting as it takes you through the Bible chronologically…

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I have preached hundreds of sermons from all parts of the Bible. I trust I have helped some people along the way. I’ve preached at the celebration of the gift of a child, at weddings and at funerals. I believe the Bible has something relevant to say about every part of our lives.

I have Bibles in the languages of most of the countries I have visited.

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One Bible in particular I treasure. Years ago, I saved up and bought a loose-leaf Bible, one to which you could add notes and sermons. I loved it. Not long after, my old friend Mick Hunt came to visit and loved it, so I gave it to him. I was just a bit gutted, but I knew I had done the right thing. Years later, just before he died, he gave it back, old, battered and obviously well used…but also full of Mick’s sermons. What a treasure!

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Mick Hunt’s Bible…

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Which part of The Bible do I like best? Well, every part of it is important – but a few passages stand out for me.

Romans 12:9-21                                                                                                             

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.                                                                        Practise hospitality.                                                                                                                           Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. 

“On the contrary:  If your enemy is hungry, feed him;if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good”.

Colossians 3:12-17

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

I can’t help thinking if the world lived according to these guidelines it would be a very much better place in which to live.

The Plug

 

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Dinas Powys is a great place to live.

It retains some of the village feel it has enjoyed over many years. However, some things have changed…

Now sadly, The Old Post Office lies empty, pleading with every passer-by to breathe new life into its fading walls. There is a new Post Office – it lies within the friendly Village Stores, a lovely little place run by a friendly couple who seem to know everybody and are always ready have a chat with anyone who comes in. I am sure for some customers the simple task of buying a morning newspaper must fill up an hour or two. The shop seems to sell everything from wine to wet wipes and frozen stuff to the free community newspaper. Thoughtfully, a stool stands just behind the always open doorway, inviting older clientele to sit and rest weary legs while they catch up on the latest gossip.

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The banks have finally gone – most of their customers using internet banking, lining up in those endless queues replaced by other frustrations like losing signal at the wrong moment and forgetting your password. Gone also is the ‘Wellness’ shop; curious this one…. In all my visits to the village, I never saw a customer go in or come out. It’s being replaced by an extension to the undertakers, obviously lots of people still passing away. The staff of the funeral home are a cheery bunch always ready to give a wave.

The pubs are still there, all three of them.

But, still fairly new, something has started breathing new life into the village. It’s a unique coffee shop. The result of a young couple setting out to chase their dreams. The Plug began life in an old ‘lean to’ – a former flower shop.

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It was a magical place, tiny, but so friendly and welcoming. Last year though, the ladies’ hairdressers next door closed, the last purple rinse completed, the business ceased and The Plug decided to expand. Months of hard work gave us what we have today.

I once described The Plug on Trip Advisor as ‘a little gem’ and that’s what it is.

If you are  fan of people watching The Plug is the place to go. My favourite time of the day to go up is any time, but early mornings are probably the most interesting. I go armed with a variety of things to do whilst enjoying my coffee…  phone, iPad, Bible and maybe some other reading material. The time spent there is great!

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The coffee shop is owned by Pete and Rachel a young couple, who are friends of mine.

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Pete’s younger brother John looks after the coffee machine and does most of the brewing.

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Pete spends his time mostly in the kitchen preparing and serving the most wonderful food – simple but exquisite! Sourdough bread toasted or untoasted with options like French toast, poached eggs, feta cheese and avocado and now Eggs Benedict. Several people lay claim to the invention of Eggs Benedict. It seems it became popular in New York, probably the recipe of someone called Commodore E.C. Benedict. Who knows…. who cares?  They are stunningly beautiful… all the food is!

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What Pete produces in the kitchen would give any top chef a run for his or her money in any competition. Amazingly, the hands that create these wonderful dishes – now thoroughly washed I am sure – were the same hands that knocked down walls, cut wood, tiled walls and a host of other building jobs, creating The Plug as we know it. Talented lad our Pete!

His overriding passion though is coffee. He even roasts his own coffee in a small industrial unit some miles away in Cardiff. The only thing Pete doesn’t do is grow the coffee or pick the beans, although don’t be surprised if you read one day of a new coffee plantation on the hills around Dinas Powys!

His helpers are a special lot! The usual young lady, a charming  friendly thing is currently on maternity leave looking after a new precious little bundle.

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She has been replaced by a friendly collection of family and friends of Pete and John, all who do the most wonderful job in looking after the customers. One young chap who was on the staff, is now in America, looking after a load of young people at a series of camps.

Sitting in The Plug, as the day starts you will see a range of faces, some familiar others not so much, coming in. Every day without fail the local estate agent starts his day there. He’s a good looking, friendly guy who always seems to know everybody there. It seems that’s it’s impossible to sell houses in Dinas Powys without first downing a flat white or some other caffeine based pick-me-up!

There are usually one or two other individuals clicking away on laptops, who give a brief nod of acknowledgement.

Always there is our local author, a very friendly, pug loving lady who also seems to know everybody and takes a great interest in everything about you…work family…everything! She’s really friendly.

A frequent visitor is a pretty young thing from Ireland, so friendly, always smiling, always busy chatting. She is the one lady who would give my lovely wife a run for her money in the World Championship Chatting Final. She’s heavily pregnant (not my dear wife!) and recently brought her mum in who is on a visit. On a recent visit to Ireland my football mad son and I actually stayed with her, she uses AirBnB. Charming, delightful people!

Every day brings a new group of friends who descend on The Plug for a catch up. One day a group of older ladies, another day some young mums with their off-spring in various states of wakefulness and sleep. From time to time a group of International rugby players will show up. Obviously a visit to The Plug is an important part of their strict training schedule.

Another frequent visitor is our local celebrity – a world famous singer and former child star. She must love it in The Plug, just another customer chatting with friends and enjoying the wonderful coffee.

Then there’s the quiet gentle chap who makes his way in quietly, enjoys a coffee and a croissant and then quietly makes his way out. Sometimes he likes to drink outside. He is something of a mystery always polite, doesn’t say a great deal – I’ve never seen him talk to anybody else… maybe he has seen better, happier days in the past.

Also a regular visitor is a personal trainer, who I would have expected to bound in, but she doesn’t… each morning she just ambles in and sits down. She is dressed in sporty gear and is close friends with the author and the young lady from across the Irish Sea. They appear to have a very close bond of friendship. Amazingly, before The Plug opened they were complete strangers to each other. That for me sums up the magic of this little coffee shop. Its a place where friendships are made and grow. Its simply magical.

Just about the Plug’s nearest neighbour is an amiable young man who has quite an important job in the nearby chemical factory. He lives in the Old Court House, just across the road. The Vale of Glamorgan County Treasures web site describes it like this…..

This Dinas Powys building dates back to 16th century and is part of the former courthouse

and the earliest surviving building in the village centre retaining much of its historic fabric.

Built of roughcast-rendered stone with slate roof and yellow brick end stack.’ 

 

Stories abound of an underground tunnel linking the old court house to the prison, which one stood where the The Plug is now. Probably not true, just the stuff of old village gossip… or is it?

He, like all the other regulars, strolls in and knows everybody there. He’s a dog lover but sadly his lovely pet, who was also his best friend recently died.  It’s hard to know what to say but in The Plug he’s among friends , people who understand.

So it goes on. There’s the young couple, both teachers who bring their two boys, both miracles apparently and the young chap who is Pete’s best mate – he’s married to  member of staff, so he always gets a special welcome.

Finally there’s an old chap, more than slightly overweight, who comes in and sits quietly.  He’s always armed with a book, a note pad and various electronic devices. He doesn’t need to order, he sits down, nods a good morning to all who are there or come in and starts busily writing his list of things to do for the day – before long his drink appears, the same every time – a single shot Americano with a dash of milk.

He once worked in a school and for forty years he kept a picture of his daughter on the wall of his classroom and underneath he put a cutting from a magazine he once read. It says,

‘Regard each pupil as one’s own – and then decide what to do with him/her’.

After a while, list ready and book read, he nods his goodbyes and goes on his way. Not to school any more, he claims to have an even better job… one he proudly describes as a full time husband, father and grandfather…

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The Old Bear

(For Jemima)

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Chapter 1

The old bear 

Day after day, month after month year after year the old bear sat in the cupboard at the top of the stairs. He shared the cupboard with some other old bears and some old ornaments. The shelf he sat on was a bit like an old people’s home for bears.

They just sat there… all day… every day. They had run out of things to say many years ago, but they liked each other’s company. Most days were the same. They all just sat on the shelf in the cupboard at the top of the stairs.

The old man and his wife, who lived in the house, would often walk past the cupboard, but these days they hardly ever stopped to look in and say hello.

Some days, and these were the days the old bear liked best, some children came to visit and the house was filled with lots of giggling and laughing and the young ones would run past the cupboard playing their childhood games of hide and seek or making dens from loads of blankets and pillows. The old bear loved the sound of the children’s laughter and excited voices, but he was sad that the children never stopped to look in to see him sitting on the shelf in the cupboard on top of the stairs.

The old bear loved company. He was created – bears are not born, they are created – a very long time ago, when the old man who owned him was a very little baby. He was a Christmas present. The old bear loved being a Christmas present, it made him feel special. The old bear was indeed a very special bear. His owner had loved him very, very much for many, many years.  All his beautiful fur had been ‘loved’ off. He no longer looked as beautiful as he used to, but he was still a very special old bear. He had been taken to bed for many years, he had been taken on holiday, he had been played with and thrown about but he always knew that he was loved.

But, there was one thing, one very big thing, that made the old bear very sad. It wasn’t that his fur had all been ‘loved’ off, that was a special thing and sitting with his friends on the shelf in the cupboard at the top of the stairs kept him warm, even in the winter. Neither was it the fact that the old bear had never been given a name. He often used to think about what name he would like to be called, but usually he was happy just to be called the old bear.

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It wasn’t even the fact that his music box had been removed. That had happened many years before and the old bear could hardly remember the tune, although he did remember that the little boy’s mother used to call it Greensleeves. The old bear though that Greensleeves was a silly name for a piece of music, although he liked green things usually!

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Nor was it even the fact that he had lost one leg. It was very painful when it happened, but that too, was a long time ago.

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What made the old bear really, really sad was that he could not see. When he was created, he had two bright shiny eyes made of glass. He loved to look at the face of his owner – the little boy who had loved him so much – he loved to look at all the other toys in the bedroom. Sometimes the little boy would take him outside into the garden and then the old bear would love to look at the beautiful blue sky and clouds, the birds flying in the sky and the lovely things around him, the flowers and vegetables that the little boy’s father used to grow in his garden.

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But now, the old bear didn’t have any eyes. He could no longer see. He lived in a world of darkness. If you close your eyes and look around that’s just what it was like for the old bear.

He lost his eyes a long time ago. While he was sitting on his shelf he would try to remember what the little boy who loved him was like.

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He knew the little boy was now an old man and he wondered if he still had the same face. He would feel his fur and remember how soft and fluffy he used to be and he worried, nearly every day, that now he looked a bit scruffy that he wouldn’t be loved so much.

But one glorious day, one very happy day, something happened. It was a day that the old bear would never forget.

It was Christmas Day, quite early in the morning and the old man opened the door of the cupboard at the top of the stairs and took him out. He was held for a while and although the old bear could not see, he felt sure the old man had a smile on his face and looked at him with a lot of love.

He was put into a bag and he hoped he was being taken somewhere very special. After a lot of moving around, the old bear was placed on the floor in the same bag. The old bear had no idea where he was, but he could hear people, a lot of people, all laughing and wishing each other a “Happy Christmas’. Then he heard some songs being sung. Soon after, he heard the voice of the old man talking. He was telling the people about the best Christmas present he had ever had and suddenly he picked the bag up and the old bear was taken out and held up. Was this true? Was he – the old bear – the best Christmas present ever? Even though he had no eyes, he felt a little tear trickle down his left cheek. He felt so happy.

If the old bear had still had his eyes, he would have noticed small girl, who was sitting, watching. This little girl had the face of an angel and her eyes were wide open as she looked at the scruffy old bear. Going through her mind was a special plan… a very special plan indeed.

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Chapter 2

The old bear finds a new friend

Eternity

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The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W. B. Yeats

For many years I have loved this beautiful poem. A few years ago, it inspired me to write my own poem and I unashamedly use his ideas….

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Eternity,

A long time – longer than I can dream of,

And yet that’s how long I will love you.

When God saw that His time was right;

In order to fulfil one part of His eternal plan,

He brought you and me together

And started to make my dreams come true.

Those dreams so precious – because

Without the gold and riches of this world

To lay before you – I only have my plans and dreams.

My dreams of you my darling Boo,

The children of our love,

Our home – so full of happy memories.

Our families our friends, so dear each one.

Our future – together for eternity and sealed with a ring.

So, as I lay my dreams at your feet

As the pathway to our future

And take your hand and step out into the unknown

Towards eternity

Tread carefully – my dreams are all I have.

Roger Newberry

22nd July 1991

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