It is Easter 1998, so it must be time to finish writing the 1997 Christmas letter. Thank you for the delightful letters and cards. We appreciated knowing that a number of you were not expecting to hear from us before 1998, although we did not expect it to be this late, even if you did!
To start with our news, for a change. For Sue the most significant events of 1997 were connected with work. She is still working at the National Resource Centre for Dance, and the last 14 years of her work have not yet appeared on CD-Rom, but we're almost there! However in October she began to feel increasingly restless at having spent over 10 years working on a voluntary basis for the church doing safe, undemanding jobs, and began to feel that God had more in mind. Shortly afterwards an administrative vacancy came up with Europe Now, the Guildford-based charity which supports Open Air Campaigners missionaries from the UK working in Europe, including the Howes and Kemps, our friends in France. Working from an office in Steve Poulard's house, she now does her best to answer the phone, post and e-mails; keep track of the accounts; organise the UK end of outreaches; send out prayer letters; and arrange deputation. It's certainly different, and takes up far more time than the church job, but it feels 'right'.
Paul is now the chairman of Europe Now, in which capacity he finds himself attending EMA (Evangelical Missionary Association) conferences in Birmingham and OAC meetings in far-flung places. Apart from occasional trips to Lauris, April 1997 was Copenhagen, March 1998 was Basel, 1999 is Munich, and 2000 is Brazil. In addition, Europe Now is currently considering offering training to those interested in working as OAC missionaries in Europe. We are contributing to the initial discussions and hope to be involved in the plans as they come to fruition.
All this means that we are reaching the limit of what we can do on Paul's salary while he holds down a full-time job (and Sue does several part-time ones): we may soon need to be fund- raising for ourselves as well as the missionaries. Some of you may wish to pray particularly for us as we decide how to develop this ministry: please let us know if you would like more information about this or any other aspect of Europe Now's work. There is an excellent quarterly magazine, Borderlines, which we can send, and we can also arrange for someone to visit your church or housegroup.
Having had to spend a considerable amount of time and energy on The Westy Club since setting it up, Sue was very glad to see the committee strengthened by several keen parents. The Club is three years old now, and although money remains a problem Sue's responsibilities are more widely shared. Just for fun Sue continues with a French class, which this year she was daft enough to make an Institute of Linguists post-A level diploma class. Exams in May - why, oh why!
We celebrated Paul's 40th birthday last June in a low-key way, at the Rum-Wong Thai restaurant. He has not had noticeably more time to play Go, but managed to get to a couple of tournaments and competitions in Guildford. He still swims fairly regularly, and Alan now joins him. Work remains challenging, but a little simpler following a management buy-out earlier this year.
On the church front, Paul continues to preach at Westborough and three other churches, and Sue also preaches occasionally. Paul is Treasurer for the Mission Board and Building Fund, and tries to ensure that support for the latter is not at the expense of the former. The hope is that work can start on the buildings later this year, although there is still a lot of fund-raising to do before then. Paul has also been involved in responding to the URC's somewhat contentious resolutions on homosexuality. Sue no longer serves on any church committees, which she finds quite refreshing (and the work gets done even without her). We are now slowly settling into a new Housegroup, and several successful social events have been organised.
Alan moves on to secondary school in September and is very happy to be staying with his friend Edward. They spend as much time as possible together, and each family thinks the other boy is charming, polite, helpful etc. Comparing notes with Edward's Mum it is clear that each reserves his really horrible moments for home. Alan's bedroom is impassable due to Lego models, and it can be difficult to prise him from the computer or a book. We were astonished when in year 5 he received a silver certificate and 'best in school' certificate for the UK Maths Challenge which his school enters each year. This is aimed at years 7 and 8 - we knew he was clever, but hadn't realised he was that clever. Alan has moved on from Cubs to Sea Cadets, having tried Scouts once and found it 'boring'. He jumps at any chance to spend time away from us - YMCA weekends, for example - and although he is not a noisy boy it is very quiet without him. He still goes to Westy Club which is 'boring' except on video night. He also goes to JAM Club (Jesus and Me) at church, with Edward, but has so far steadfastly refused to believe the good news.
Philip remains keen to try anything. He loves all games and sports, and plays football whenever he can, having given up dancing in favour of this (to Mummy's regret: dancing creates cleaner dirty washing!) The local Anglican church has started a football club (the vicar is an ex- professional footballer and coach), and he has made tremendous progress, to our surprise and delight. He is popular at school with boys and girls, where his intelligence seems to be regarded with mild curiosity, probably because of his matter of fact attitude. "I'm clever, I know it, and there's no point trying to hide it." He is desperate to learn to play the violin but has had to make do with the recorder up to now. He has recently 'swum up' from Beavers to Cubs and remains enormously enthusiastic. He reads voraciously and fights Alan for the computer. Westy Club is fun, because there is always someone who will play snooker, monopoly or chess with him.
Ian is good, he says, although not everyone has noticed it yet. He specialises in girlfriends, and says he does not enjoy school, although he does well there despite this. He suffers from following in Philip's footsteps, because he is a very different child. It has not helped that his reception class teacher was unwell for six months. She was then kept with the class for year 1 and fell ill again, so in 18 months he has had four different class teachers for about a term each, not to mention supply teachers for odd days and weeks. However, Ian's reading is excellent, and his maths shows great promise. He also wants to learn the violin which does not fill us with joy. He liked the idea of tap dancing better than the reality, and abandoned both ballet and tap last year, to his teacher's relief. Ian is still desperate to go to Beavers, which we hope will happen soon! Westy Club is usually boring (except video night), but he would be furious if he didn't go any more. Ian starred as Cheddar/Edam Mouse in Kid's Praise at church: those of you who know the work may wonder at this description, but he was the only little mouse brave enough to speak, and very sweet with it.
To skim through some of the highlights of 1997: in February Paul took Alan to see the Queen opening a new wing at the hospital, which we hope he will remember.
In March we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a romantic meal at La Meridiana, a very nice Italian restaurant which Paul had found through work.
In 1996 Paul made several (failed) attempts to see some famous impressionist paintings at the Musee D'Orsay, and when he finally got in, the main pictures were on loan to Tokyo. Last April he had a meeting at the Institute of Directors in London, and arrived in Trafalgar Square with time to spare, so what's on at the National Gallery? An exhibition of Impressionist Art, with most of the works he wanted to see. Who needs Paris? There's a parable in there, somewhere.
May was hectic. Sue spent a weekend with Val Cowan in Whitley Bay. We spent the start of half-term camping with the church at Longbarn, a lovely place where we participated in various amazing activities with other families - building an aeroplane, throwing water around, and cooking over an open fire. Alan impressed us by single-handedly repulsing several adult 'attackers' in the water game who approached with a ladder: how he did it we will never know. Camping was followed by a quick trip to Cadbury World (Alan won a family ticket in a competition, clever chap) which the boys pronounced 'boring' apart from the free samples.
June was quiet, apart from our birthdays. We spent a lovely afternoon in July on the river with the Prydes - Sue particularly enjoyed being rowed upstream by Chris and Alan. Also in July we were honoured by Peter Hooper's visit. For Durham friends, being a priest hasn't changed him much. The boys were in stitches at his bed-time story and want to know when he will come again.
We holidayed in August, in France: two weeks in a gîte with Paul's parents. (Mark and Sue Howe were having a knee operation and a baby respectively.) We were in the countryside near Soissons, NE of Paris, and within striking distance of a run-down farmhouse being renovated by Sue's cousin Valerie and family ... and of Parc Asterix. The boys loved the day we spent with the relatives (who had English videos), and even more the day with Asterix, which included one of the most entertaining shows we have ever seen, revolving around a plot (several plots, in fact) to steal the Mona Lisa. The boys found the rest of the holiday 'boring'. Paul and his parents went to Paris the day before the Pope arrived, and travelled on the metro with most of the thousands of young people who had assembled to see him. They also got to the Louvre, and finally managed to see the Mona Lisa ('La Giaconda'), the Virgin of the Rocks, Venus de Milo, Mr de Milo and so on.
September was quiet. In October Sue did the Christmas shopping at a Chocoholics party - enough said. It was also a delight to welcome the Jenkins family for the evening. Hearing of school starting so early in the morning in Germany made the boys feel less hard-done-by than usual. We also house-sat a rabbit and a guinea-pig for half-term. Although we enjoyed having them, it has not inspired Sue to acquire our own.
In November we sent the boys in various directions and spent a weekend in Nottingham, staying with the Howletts. The purpose of the trip was to present Europe Now's work at a day organised by OAC Nottingham, and Sue was able to put a few faces to names. Later in the month came the high (or was it the low?) point of our social calendar. At the church talent auction we bought an evening of 'Pasta with the Pastor': a pleasant meal, we thought, with several friends from church, the pastor and his wife. Sue was asked beforehand if there was anything we did not like to eat, as you might expect. Her list included ginger, marmalade, curry and chilli, but all she could think of for Paul was marshmallows. When we arrived, there was a strange assortment of dishes on display, and gradually the horror of our situation dawned: mention anything relating to 'Church', and the penalty was to eat the food you most disliked. Imagine Paul, with his mouth full of marshmallows ... we have seldom seen such glee on the faces of anyone over five years old.
Highlights of December included a trip to Thatcham for Sue's sister Pip's n-th birthday, with a house-full of guests, while Paul played Go in Guildford. For Paul, 'achievement of the year' was at the work Christmas meal. Chocolates were distributed in 'Trivial Pursuit' type game boxes with questions on a theme: the player with the highest score got to eat the largest piece. Paul's table had the box with questions on 'Pop Music,' which, as those of you who recall his familiarity with the genre will appreciate, ranks slightly below Serbo-Croat as a topic he would choose. But he won the chocolate (with a score of 1 - a lucky guess, but hey, who cares?)! After Christmas we spent a few days in London, and visited Docklands. The boys were fascinated by the driverless trains on the Docklands Light Railway, and a friendly guard showed them the controls.
We spent the first night of 1998 sharing a Chinese takeaway with the Kemp family and other friends. A few days later (and unconnected), Paul's eczema became infected and he spent an unexpected and initially very uncomfortable 10 days at home.
In February this year we joined three other couples from church on a Mission to Marriage weekend: don't panic, our pastor is encouraging all couples to go on one. It's hard to describe the experience, but we did decide that it would be good to go away without the boys at least one weekend each year, preferably for pleasure rather than on EN business! Soon after we enjoyed Fritz Goerling staying with us. Fritz is a translation consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and has links to our church going back many years.
March saw a Hitchins family meal for Mum's 70th birthday, which fortunately did not clash with Philip's chance to see a Premier League football match: Wimbledon v. Leicester City (2:1) - Paul's first 'real' football match. Philip enjoyed it, but would rather not travel so far next time.
And finally April: JAM Club hosted a quiz night, with alternate rounds of questions for children and adults. Sue scored a creditable 4 out of 6 on both football and TV, and the children were just brilliant. We spent the week before Easter with Val in Whitley Bay, visiting castles, rockpools, dinosaurs, Romans, and Metroland (horribly noisy, cramped and expensive indoor fairground rides - the boys loved it). Philip and Paul did the tour of St James' Park (for some reason Philip is a Newcastle fan) which they both enjoyed, Paul far more than he anticipated.
We started to travel home on Maundy Thursday but the flooded roads (remember the floods?) forced us to give up at Crick, near Rugby. The Forte Posthouse offered very reasonable B+B (with a bit of haggling and all in one room), and we took advantage of the swimming pool and sauna next morning, so stayed in holiday mood.
May is already looking hectic, with French exams, preaching, camping, and EN meetings...
Culture has included cinema trips: for us, The Crucible (amazing!), Absolute Power and The Peacemaker (frightening); and with the boys all the Star Wars (was it really 20 years?), George of the Jungle (Watch out for that tree!), The Borrowers (no relation to the book), Mousehunt (hysterical) and Anastasia (just Ian - fancy explaining the Russian revolution to a six-year old?).
There have also been several theatre trips. For his 5th birthday (1997) Ian and a few friends saw The Famous Five in Woking. Sue made Philip go to the ballet with her to see Coppelia - he was still dancing then - which he denied enjoying. Paul and Alan greatly enjoyed the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Beowulf in Woking. For Paul's mother's birthday we treated her to 'All's well that ends well' at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. Alan went to the Royal Tournament which was 'all right'. The Beavers allowed us to join them at Ali Baba, a reasonable amateur production. The Reduced Shakespeare Company's presentation of 'The Bible' had us in stitches. Maybe this year Paul will manage to see something at The Globe in London - we visited while it was still being built.
Legoland is still a favourite treat. Alan and Philip both opted for this as their birthday treat last year, as did Ian for his 6th birthday, this year. Philip's treat was early, the last weekend Legoland was open, so there were amazing fireworks. Ian's trip was with two girl friends, which may explain why it was our best visit yet.
Families: Sue's mother was 70 this year, and there was a three line whip for lunch. Both Mum and Dad are well, but have had a difficult year in some ways, with both needing minor surgery. Uncle Phil was 80 last year and has moved to sheltered accommodation. The siblings are well and seem to be specialising in moving house. Ray and Diana are the exception, still in Oxford. Mike and Barbara are in Stalybridge, but hope to move closer to Barbara's job. Philip and Pip are moving within Newbury: we see them most often, and there is a good picnic point about half-way between us. Peter and Jo have sold their house in Eckington and have been renting near Cambridge, but are desperate to buy before the baby arrives.
Paul's parents continue to thrive, with golf keeping Dad fit and Mum running round after him and Roger. Roger has changed jobs, from Burberys to a small financial company. He is happier in this job, and continues to help with Scouts and lead an active social life.
We still don't have e-mail at home, but as you can see at the top, Paul can now be found on a more manageable address. Sue actually has two addresses, but doesn't see either of them every day.
Thank you again for all your cards, letters and other bits. We love to hear from you - it is a sad day when the postman only brings bills and junk mail! May God bless you throughout (the remainder of) 1998.
Paul, Sue, Alan, Philip and Ian Hazelden