reflections on our home learning 7

It is a very good job that we have a week’s holiday now. We are not heading off anywhere exotic but we are laying aside formal lessons and filling our days with other activities like dentist appointments and haircuts as well as time with friends and craft projects. Bob announced his brain could no longer work on Wednesday night and that it had all turned to mush and I have to admit Thursday’s lessons needed more patience and will power than either he or I had so I called things to a halt a day early. Having breezed through (2 – ? = 1), his inability to work out (? – 1 = 1) was the final straw at the end of the maths lesson.  Another great reason for home educating, when the learning is not happening lets not force it.

This morning saw the boys get into a great imaginative game that had them happily occupied while I failed on at least two attempts to get Kanga to sleep. The weather has been rather damp this week and so cabin fever has reared its head, so I was encouraged and blessed to see sibling play today going well as there have been plenty of less harmonious moments this week between the boys. I rested in the knoweldge that neither Bob or I had the focus for lessons and that he and Zog were now doing what I had longed to see happen all week – playing together happily.  I know there are many parenting books, blogs and gurus say that even in wet weather your should get properly kitted out and get out doors with children every day. There is no such things as too much rain, it is all about the clothing. While that is not a problem with Bob and infact he is more than happy to be out and about on adventures in the rain and cold, Zog is not impressed with cold or rain and ensures all around know this however well dressed he is for the occassion. Zog loves being out doors and has wanted to get out lots this week but his disgust when he gets out and realisese that it is still wet is not a happy moment. He is less than impressed with my lack of ability to control the weather and volume of water falling from the sky.

It was also a week where my whiplash that occurred last week got the better of me at the start of the week and I have had my head elsewhere pondering questions relating to our future and what is our next step? These along with some other things on my mind this week and some poor quality sleep has left me feeling less than on the ball or together in my days. Combined with the wet weather days have felt long, hard and muddy inside and out.

I did manage to use the time on Tuesday when the whiplash had me resting for the day while Mark had the children getting lesson materials and plans printed and organised for the 8 weeks from after half term to Christmas. Realising that it is a week longer and how this week has been a battle for us all I may need to factor in a small break around week 4 to enable us to keep going for the full 8 weeks. I have also adjusted and tweeked some of the lesson plans we were following to make allowances for how Bob is doing, where his strengths are and which areas need more work. Knowing that children his age are alreayd being streamed at school for abilities makes me thankful that we can simply change things up with no impact on his confidence or moral at this young age.

Its been a week when I know my state of mind and grumpiness has meant moments have been lost, that Bob, Zog and Kanga have all been impacted and in turn reacted at times because of the circumstances. What has been helpful is using our emotions chart as that helps us all see how each other are doing as well as expressing our own feelings so we can try and work together to over come when the range of emotions covered is unsure, frustrated, silly and disappointed.

The wonder of animlas on BBC iplayer has continued to inspire the imagination of both boys, Bob continues to read more and more words, is asking all sorts of questions to gain understanding and clarity about the world around him. Zog continues to dive deep into the world of numbers and Kanga sees no need in day time naps if her brothers do not need them and continues to trail them all day long, unless there is an unguarded staircase or open door to escape up or through. We have all grown, we have all learnt more about ourselves and the world around us even if we cannot articulate it coherently. It may be a week that seemed in the moment to be lacking any structure, any teaching, but looking back learning never stopped.


What is it?

The somewhat cryptic title of this blog post reflects what the Israelites said when they saw God’s provision of manna for them in the desert for the first time (Exodus 16).  Manna sounds very similar to the question: “what is it?” in Hebrew, and seems to suggest that the Israelites hadn’t seen this strange substance before.

I was re-reading a chapter on Exodus 16 in Walter Moberley’s excellent “Old Testament Theology”, and was struck by a few quotes which I thought I’d put up here, as I found them perceptively encouraging about the nature of the Christian life:

“The striking thing about YHWH’s provision is that Israel has no idea what to make of it.” (80)
“In this depiction the heavenly bread is resistant to one of the most basic of human urges: to save up and to hoard. It is part of YHWH’s new way, into which Israel is being inducted, in which familiar categories of understanding and yardsticks of behaviour are replaced. YHWH’s principle is that Israel’s bread must each day be provided anew and collected anew. The implicit sense is of a need to appropriate the divine gift always in the present, in the here and now.” (82)
“To summarise: The manna, a divine provision, can be seen to function as a symbolic concretisation of divine grace. It testingly challenges Israel to learn to live from an unfamiliar resource; it nourishes the Israelites irrespective of their varying abilities; it resists being accommodated to conventional human desires; it is designed to enable Israel to develop a particular rhythm of life, encompassing both the working week and rest on the Sabbath. In all these ways the manna inducts Israel into the divine pattern for life.” (84)

These quotes all summed up the sense I’ve had recently that God’s provision for us comes in ways so different from what I would plan, and in a way that seems designed to force me to trust him, and cope with new and unexpected patterns.

I’ve seen a couple of times recently how much my firstborn son hates routine to be changed, and the way in which unexpected events throw him completely (sometimes even good unexpected). It is easy to  see his overreaction, but the reality is that I am exactly the same with God about life.  I hate the unexepected.  I hate plans to be changed or overthrown.  When I was single I thought I liked things to be spontaneous – the reality is that I like things to be spontaneous as long as I have spontaneously planned them in my head.  I don’t like someone else’s spontaneity forced on me.

These quotes about the manna are a reminder of how freeing God’s daily grace is, and yet how scary that freedom is.  I have to surrender my desire for control of my life, and submit to God’s rythmn.  The Israelites had a hard job accepting that the manna would last 2 days on a Friday, and yet it did.  They had a hard job accepting that Monday’s manna would not last until Tuesday, and sure enough it didn’t.  God provides enough for each day – and enough for a day of rest, and he provides on a day by day basis.  Which I imagine is why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but to trust God one day at a time.

As John Piper puts it (Today’s mercies for Today’s troubles – in one of his devotional books):

God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. This is why we tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.

The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles. Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

reflections on our home learning 6

I have come to the end of this week content and at peace. It has been a week of simply joys and pleasures. It has been a week when I have had tangible moments that God is at work in my heart and in our life. I am seeing buds coming, offering the hope of a harvest, a reminder that prayers sown in tears have not been wasted. It has also been a week when conversations with others with children at school has made me thankful once more for the opportunity we have to be at home learning. I know there will be weeks when school will seem idyllic but for now I am very thankful for the season and place we are in with our children and their learning.

Somewhere along the line we have got a week behind with the maths lessons. That did cause a momentary rise of anxiety but then I remembered we are learning at home and the schedule is there to offer a helping hand. We are not bound by it and Thursday mornings have been lost recently to the Great Bristish Bake Off, which was then always followed by elaborate role playing which covered creativity, maths, science, vocabulary and most of our kitchen being relocated to the ‘bake off tent’ set up in the sitting room. With the final this week Thursdays will return to normal next week and we can get caught up again with our standard maths lessons.

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Having been encouraged with Bob’s writing last week this week did feel as if all knowledge and skills for writing, maths and history at times had been discarded but with some concentration and encouragement he was able to get through lessons. For Bob one of his main challenges will be to remain focused on the task in hand and not get totally fascinated by one train of thought and run with it while forgetting about the task in hand. We have realised this is true in all of his life and rather than discipline him for not doing what he has been asked to do, remind him not to get distracted in the book he found along the way. It is amazing how many books lie between the shoe cupboard, the kitchen sink etc and wherever he is when asked to do something. And then we have moments like bedtime last night when having not had ‘structured’ lessons he turned bedtime stories into grammar, history, maths and science time with his questions. The mind is never not learning, the question is are we ready to go with the flow of the moment and savour his hunger to learn, to grasp and understand.

We have also taken advantage of the moments of sunshine to let the boys simply be outdoors in the garden and letting their imaginations run free. I love pottering around getting moments of housework done while they are outside and have the windows wide opened so I can hear the stories being re- enacted. As Ancient Egypt has been our theme for these weeks there have been various re tellings of the different lives of the gods and pharoahs of the times.

Our Tuesday this week was taken up with Sumerian mosaics for crafts and then a glorious walk in the park searching 1m square areas for all sorts of natural treasures and discoveries.


We then went along for our first taste of the Cheltenham Literature Festival as we had been generously given tickets by Waterstones to go and see Nicola Davis from the Really Wild Show. The boys loved it and Bob got to be up front to help with demonstrations as he had been able to answer questions. As Mark said it could have very easily turned into a dialogue between Nicola Davis and Bob.

Lessons in life this week have required the boys adpating and helping while I have been taking things gently thanks to a lady not noticing the bus we were on going round a roundabout and the bus driver doing an emergency stop. Thankfully the children were all fine but I was left with whiplash. This would not be a problem were it just the boys or Kanga being older but I have struggled to hold her so Mark has had to give up time again this week to help. Bob often finds times when I am not fully well unsettling and can be a source of spirals for him but he has done really well this week. It has got in under his skin but we have been encouraged to see him making strides to work with the situation rather than lash out at it. It has been encouraging in various ways this week to seeing Bob dig deep with advance notice to navigate situations that would have 2, 4, 12 months ago have thrown him totally. He is learning that bearing with one another and carrying one anothers cares is not always an easy road or self benefiting in the moment but that it requires a depth of character and sacrifice.

Zog is continuing to love numbers and identify the written form of them whenever he sees it and fill in the gaps on books he knows by heart that Bob is pracitising reading. Kanga continues to engage and explore the world with a mind and desire that is faster than her feet.

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reflections on our home learning journey 5

I think this is a week where Bob would say there simply have not been enough hours in the day for all the books he wants to read, have read to him. And I would agree but it has also been an encouraging steady week of getting on with each day. It’s been a week with appointments and time with friends so we have had to be flexible with when we have done lessons and how lessons look when you attempt to do them in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning. There have also been days when we are done by 9:30am due to early starts and energy to just get on with it, leaving whole days to play and read, so one might think there should be enough time for reading for Bob but I reckon he will always think there is never enough time for all the books he wants to read in a day.

I have been in quiet disbelief that we have already completed five weeks and are on track with my aims even though the schedule now is very much a backdrop rather than a front player in our weeks. We have all made steps forward and grown. We have all faced stretching challenges. It has been a week when I am thankful that we are not competing at the school gates, when sibling friendships have blossomed and weathered some hard calls and learning how to consider others has been played out in tangible ways. At this stage many of those lessons are still one way as Bob can grasp these concepts in ways that Zog is not yet able to. This can at times be a balancing act to ensure Bob is not always having to do what Zog wants when a choice has to be made, so that Zog does not assume he can simply have his way. Even if he cannot grasp what it means to consider someone else’s preferences the practice of letting Bob have a choice is important for later on. And in it all it has been teaching ground for me to listen to both boys and to show them that I have heard both of their sides of events and preferences. Bob has also shown great patience with Kanga and has been a real help to me with her as she strives to walk and has become the expert escape artist to the back garden to find the tap and as much mud as possible before I track her down.

In many ways I would say that while lessons have happened this week Bob’s biggest growth has been in his character and that has been a great privilege to watch. He like me has a long way to go in living out the image of God but he is growing up and it is doing my soul to good. It has also been a week when Zog has been quietly reflecting a gentle character where manners flow very naturally when gentle acts of kindness are extended to him without show and obedience comes most readily to him when instructions are gently asked with a please and thank you. This seems in contrast to him being our very rough and tumble physical no fear boy. Bob continues to be our boy with a big heart for justice and wrongs to be set right. At present those injustices that he seeks to set right are still very small in contrast to those we hear of around the world and one of our biggest challenges to come will be to know when to introduce more of those events into his world. Parenting books do not cover such issues. We cannot and do not want to shield him forever from such events but he is still only 5 with a deep sensitivity to right and wrong, and justice, there is a need to guard these steps of growing up for him carefully. Not long ago Mark’s saddle was stolen from his bike outside college and this deeply unsettled Bob as he could not comprehend why anyone would do this. For all of his play of soldiers and battle and bravery the real world where grown ups live should operate in a just and fair way. Even today at lunch he wanted to know why in history women have not been respected and been allowed to go to school, an idea he has picked up along the way himself. When I gently tried to explain that this still happened today he could not fathom why I or his sister might, especially if we lived in some other countries be treated unequally or why others would stop other girls and women from education. My heart leapt with hope that even now the seeds of my prayer from Isaiah for our boys was taking hold even in these tender years. It also shows that while at times it may feel they do not listen to the lessons Mark teaches them on how to treat Ruth and myself, they are in fact seeping deep within their thinking and frame.

Zog I think has enjoyed science the most this week though that is no surprise as this term we are focusing on the animal kingdom and he has always been our animal lover. To vary the style this week we have been enjoying the BBC tv series The Wonder of Animals. While Zog has been fascinated in an animate engaged way, Bob, while fully engaged. has wrestled with the realities of the animal world and what it means for carnivorous animals to find their food, challenging his sense of justice and desire to defend the weaker smaller ones.

And it would be wrong to not give a mention to the highlight as ever of our week to Tuesday’s homeschool co-op for art. music and fun at the park doing a nature treasure hunt. It was a glorious day with the leaves an array of wonderful fall colours. For art we made Egyptian necklaces and braclets to go with the headdresses that were made last week so the boys have had fun dressing up as Egyptians.

All in all it has been a week of good food for my soul and I am thankful that the door at this point is open for us to all still be at home making these discoveries as a family. I think this might be one of those reflections I come back to on weeks when we seem to be heading backwards and banging heads. But for now I am going to be thankful and let my heart rejoice in our children and all that God is doing in them that might so easily go unnoticed had I not sat down to reflect and think back over the week.

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reflections on our home learning journey 4

Where last week was a roller coaster this week has simply been. It was not helped with me navigating it with a migraine which has made my mornings somewhat slow and foggy. Lessons at home are also not helped by Kanga teething and unsettled. She has decided that it is high time she was up and walking and so is very frustrated and lets the world know when she finds herself flat on the ground having tried to get from one piece of furniture to another which requires letting go. A report this week indicated low-level disruption in classrooms can hinder learning. Well I know I am not the first home schooling parent this week to remark that the same can be said at home from time to time. But the blessing of being at home is there is room for flexibility and adapting. Which is exactly what we did on Thursday morning when I was re-emerging from my migraine state and everyone was out of kilter. I was encouraged reading an article on the BBC where Richard Branson was speaking of allowing his staff to pick and choose when and how long they took time off work, rather than setting a set amount of annual leave. Staff tended to take time when the team were in a good place work wise, and did not take excessive time away and honoured the team. So with renewed confidence we decided to put lessons to one side and go and run errands in the village and bake a scrumptious chocolate fudge cake. DSCN1788 I am very thankful chocolate is not a trigger for my migraines. Along with the renewed confidence came doubt though as I stepped outside the front door for while we are both very confident of the choice we have made with home education we then have to live it out in community with others who may be supportive, curious, unsure or totally skeptical and I find myself doubting as I ponder what they might think if they see us having fun out and about when ‘surely we should be doing lessons.’ Later that day I then came across an article highlighting the importance of play as a means and end in itself and it not always needing to come with an educational, social or health measured outcome and that children these days do not get enough free play.  I watched my children build bridges and forts with the sofa cushions and remembered their interaction on the rides outside the supermarket and let go of my guilt that I had not set an agenda for their play in the midst of a day ‘off lesson’ and let them have a bucket full of free play and soaked in the enjoyment of their imaginations.

I was reminded on Monday afternoon that large busy groups at the moment are not life giving for me right now, which is hard as our church group is growing and thriving which is exciting to see. But my intention to catch up with lessons in the afternoon instead was a non starter. And my inner self often reacts with panic to that as my personal monologue then tells me that the whole week is going to be a right off and that this whole journey is going to be lost. Yes I tend to over dramatise outcomes. But with a change to our Tuesday routines with art and music with others now being every two weeks I was able to catch up with lessons on Tuesday morning and still do art with my boys. This week it was Egyptian headdresses.DSCN1744 We then all headed to the park for a fantastic fall walk and play with some bark rubbings along the way. That was the highlight of the week seeing Bob and the other children forming friendships and heading off creating dens and fishing and paddling, while the mums re-lived their childhoods collecting chestnuts with the little ones.DSCN1770DSCN1745DSCN1758DSCN1755









With this new pattern for Tuesdays it works well as our church group is every two weeks and so will work in with me being able to not worry about trying to do lessons on a Monday afternoon but can do them on a Tuesday morning, but I will need to be extra organised with dinner for Tuesdays. That is part and parcel the blessing of these days as we adjust and adapt our weeks and work out what is best for us and how much we can all manage. Bob also added into his week french on a Wednesday afternoon at an after school group. He has a love and fascination for languages so we will see how he goes with a modern language as so far his main exposure to languages has been Biblical Greek and Hebrew through his Dad’s study.

This week also found us being asked about ‘socialization’ and the need to ensure our children are getting adequate socialization. In all honesty it is a question I dread because my I am not sure what lies behind the question and so list off any number of ways our children interact with others in the week – home school co-op, church, french class etc. We are not living hermit lives and so I wrestle with why we are always being asked that one question. What is it that causes school families to always come round to that question of homeschooling families? Surely all of us should be seeing our families as starting points for building relationships and that it is from there we move out but why that move outward can only be done by being in a school context from as early an age as possible confuses me.   Just as they are learning all sorts of other basic skills they are not mature enough to necessarily make wise judgement calls in friendship forming.  There will be plenty of time when they are older when they will be out making their own friends and relationships and I want to give them a good grounding in what good, healthy friendships are. And rarely do I get the sense that that is the answer people want when they ask the question. I am not saying that that cannot be done through children going to school  and yes my own experience of school days no doubt impacts my perspective on this but we made the choice together to  home educate and Mark has a positive recollection of school days in contrast. Teaching about relationships can happen in school and parents can train their children as well,  just as leaning to be relational with others can happen through being home educated. My brother and sister in law have sent their girls to school but have been very intentional in getting to know the families of the friends their girls have made and been creative in this with ideas we hope to incorporate with our children as they grow and another family we know intentional chose the home they bought so it would be a place with enough space for their boys and their friends to spend time and her shopping also reflects that their home can be overflowing with a number of teenagers. Either way there needs to be an intentionality to know who our children are building relationships with at any age. I don’t think this paragraph is perfect, I am writing with my own blinkers, I am not trying to be divisive but I have reworked it so many times I am going to let it stand as it is.

Its been the week its been. No great highs, no eureka moments, but we are not who we were a week ago. We have all learnt lessons, all been challenged, we have had to go back to the drawing board to work out what needs adjusting to make the week flow for all of us. We have laughed, we have read, we have had moments to live out loving others, we have had to say sorry to each other and forgive each other. We have needed God’s grace and because of it we have kept putting one foot in front of another.


reflections on our first week of learning

My hope is to take time each weekend to reflect and write about the week of learning; to stop and consider moments that might otherwise get missed. To provide myself with a map of where we have walked, climbed, sat and rest, splashed in streams of unfettered joy or much needed grace and mercy. To remind myself of the wonder of all that God has placed within our family, to see our children anew. And I write publicly because I believe it takes a village to raise a child and many of the villagers in our family’s life are scattered across the four corners of the world and I seek their wisdom and insight and voice in this journey, so please speak up our children need your voices too.

I love order, I love lists, I love new folders and pencils and sheets of paper waiting for all that creative potential. I crave plans, established consistent routines. Grace is unatural to me, set ways is the air I breathe. This might be one reason we are on this path; yes I can give a number of reasons why we have chosen to home educate our children; but they are not the only ones on the path and so along with them I am learning, being stretched, having my eyes opened and at the end of the week I think I am willing to say that is a good thing.

We have not reached the place my timetable had us by Friday, the laundry pile had become not just a mountain but an entire moutnain range. Though to be fair I suspect a small person who loves ‘hanging up clothes’ thanks to a Maisy mouse episode may have something to do with the number of clothes that keep finding themselves in the laundry basket. My menu plan has not run smoothly from one night to the next due to the fact that some days seemed to miss out entire nights of sleep and so freezer meals were essential. We have navigated the tail end of the two younger ones with colds and teething only for the eldest to go down with a cold and unless you have seen Bob with a cold this is no small matter. For Bob a cold means major sinus issues (too young for any medication), eyes that will only half open and the heaviest congestion I have come across. As he put it himself this morning when asked how he was doing his response was ‘I feel like a melting iceberg’.

But saying all of that we have covered maths, history, writing, spelling, grammar, reading. And we had a fantastic day with our home ed families together day on Tuesday, enjoying cave painting, music with lots of animal songs and a great time in the park. Taking Kanga in the sling and leaving the stroller at home and also wearing my new welIMAG0281homeschool pitville park sept 2014lingtons freed me up to wander off the beaten path and paddle in the stream. I was free to enjoy myself and have fun with our boys. It was a moment of grace that I was not anticpating but it meant I enjoyed an afternoon of pure small boy delight and see the park through their eyes. And Kanga was far happier too. I have learnt to teach subjects standing up, curled up on the sofa, to do jigsaws with my hands while teaching another subject in order to keep two boys going. I have learnt to let Bob take his worksheets to his new (to him) old fashioned school desk to do independent work and learn how to use his time. I am learning to get my head around all sorts of Egyptian names as we study Ancient Egypt. That in particular has been humbling to me as I long to see the light come on for Bob and his reading and there I am with all my dyslexic ways of seeing the world of print wrestle with names that make no sense to my understanding of sounds and want to just skip over them but cannot as I am reading aloud.

Humility has been my word for this week as I see Bob’s wrestle with flexibility when I suggest doing something differently or trying something new because i can see that that might help him, knowing full well that such a suggestion made to me would be met with absolute resilance with all of my inner most being. I have been reminded that the blessing of home education means you can adapt and tailor lessons to the individual child even when it means letting go of the plan I had made for DSCN1705how the lesson would be best learnt. I have rejoiced when Bob embraced the cave painting project for normally he is a boy who is hesitant with colour and paper and tends to do monotone minute pictures in one corner of the page but with this he filled the entire sheet.

I have been humbled by the deep sense of justice and injustice Bob sees in the world and how quick he is to spot it and that God has called us to parent him in that path. He keenly feels injustices beyond him, as well as his own, and that challenges me because while I can see injustices I only feel my own. He reacts deeply and intensely and I need to take a deep breath and consider when he is frustrated where the injustice he feels lies, and sadly too many times it is my own short fuse or ability to change the boundaries on them over often small inconsequential things but things that matter all the same.

It has not been the week my timetable and planner had but it has been a good week for which I am very thankful for and one day that timetable and planner will take their rightful place in my life as a means of grace rather than a rule to live by.


(group photo taken by Bethan)

Death of a car

Yesterday our dead car was taken away on a car transporter.  The engine failed 2 weeks ago, at the start of our journey to London. DSCN0537 The friendly Toyota garage tried to see if anything could be done – but alas, the costs of fixing it would outweigh the value of the car, and our budget does not stretch to a replacement.

It makes me reflect on a car, and on all that driving means and has meant over the years.  At age 17 passing the test was a rite of passage. Over the previous year various friends had taken and passed, and failed, the test and were now driving various different small cars around the Guildford area.  In the youth group I attended (Guildford Crusaders) cars and transport featured higly – I remember 9 of us travelling around in Volvo estate for Friday evenings one  year.  I remember the minibus journeys in the Crus minibus (“Von”, after the registration plate) which had rust holes in the floor, but still rattled along at high speeds – especially downhill…  I remember car journeys on summer camps, being introduced to music – U2, Queen (my sister listened to Queen, but listening to it at Crus in a different car made all the difference!).  As a leader I remember escaping into co-leader’s cars to talk and plan and pray.

Having a March birthday meant I was ideally placed to learn and take the test in the summer – no night driving, no icy roads, very little rain.  Having briefly toyed with the idea of insuring me on my grandmothers old car (a real mini!) but realising how expensive that would be, my parents very kindly put me on their insurance, so I got to drive their Golf around – although since we grew up in wealthy Guildford the automatic assumption of friends at school and church was that I was driving Mum’s car (Dad presumably driving a company BMW or similar) – rather than the family car that it was.

It meant I got a taste of independance, and also the horrible feeling of fear of anything happened to the car (like when I drove half way across Guildford with the handbrake still on, wondering why pulling away was so hard…).  I drove to such exotic and dangerous locations as the Crusader (Christian youth organisation – in Guildford a slightly rowdy group of 11-18 year old “lads”) Hall on a Friday night – enjoying the chance to give lifts back to friends, especially those who lived in far flung villages such as Shalford (googlemap to spot the irony…).  I even got to be a “roadie” (spelling?) to my sister and her drum kit for band practice – a double advantage because it meant that I got to both drive the car and avoided listening to rehearsals of “Paint it Black”…

During my first spell back in Guildford I continued to drive my parents car when I needed it for Crusader purposes – with particularly fond memories of driving their Golf behind my co-leader’s red, rather battered old Polo, which had a bass box filling the entire boot, and which could be heard coming from several miles away (he graduated to a black Escort, and then on to BMW’s with age and income – and the bass speakers have shrunk slightly too).  Another driving memory from leading with that particular co-leader was the need to be careful when he slowed down just before the turning off the A3 for his parents house – for if an unwary friend tried to overtake, he would then speed up and leave the friend stuck on the A3 until the next turning (a good few miles up the road) – thankfully I avoided that fate…    The other vehicle I learnt to drive at this point was the Crusader minibus, and then other hired minibuses – earning something of a reputation somehow for “crashing” buses – I guess on one noteable summer camp I did manage to scrape the side of the bus down a stone bridge and on one journey scrape the roof 3 times on car park entrances…

My first car came with a job at a church in Harold Wood.  I was living in Upminister, only 4 miles away, but impossible to sensibly do by public transport – both locations on a train line to London, but nothing in between, so my parents graciously purchased a “salmon red” (according to the log book, although the untrained eye often said “pink”) Polo.  I owned the car for 6 years, in the period between then and getting married, and I have many good memories of it, and memories of significant times.  Late night drives with U2 blaring out of the radio between Upminster and Cockfosters, and back to Guidford at the end of the year, trips down to Cornwall to prepare summer camp series.  Driving around Guildford on a Friday for Crusaders, giving lifts back at the end of an evening with Stereophonics and other similar music of the era.  Driving then meant independance and ability to travel, and it also meant relationships and conversation.  Lifts in the car were good times for chats – I think for guys especially the car is a great place to talk – perhaps because there is minimal eye contact.

The car was also my main means of transport to work – a place of listening to Radio 4, or pehaps some music, or maybe a sermon series – St Helen’s Bishopsgate lunchtime talks being the perfect length for the 25 minute journey.  And towards the end of my time with the car it was also the way to get from Guildford to Leicester – 8am every other Saturday for a year up the M1 – driving to see Roz.  Then time in the car driving round Leicestershire during a lovely April in 2007.  My final trip in the car was Leicester-St David’s-Guildford, before inheriting my parents superior Polo for the start of married life.

This was the car for our honeymoon, and the car for our holidays of married life together, the first car in which we put a car seat. And then we said goodbye to that car and moved to a carless existance in Vancouver.  For the most part not having a car was fine – public transport was great, we used a car-coop for a few months, and for the most part never needed the car.  Sundays were hard, but we got used to the waits at the bus stop after church, and the limited options for afternoon entertainment (summer buses to the beach helped). I became aware of how good bus trips were for relationships in parenting.  One low point was, while feeling fairly unwell myself, trying to get my son to sleep to help his cold, taking the 33 bus out as far as Ontario Street (so half way across Vancouver), and then walking down to King Edwards Avenue to catch the 25 home.  The consolation, as ever in Vancouver, was the views and interest in analysing the different houses I walked past pushing a sleeping child.  The high points were the airport trips to Vancouver airport’s viewing platform – bus to Oakridge, Sky Train to the airport – hopefully with a front seat for best views as the train emerges from under Vancouver to go over the river – and then possibly, for a full day out, Sky Train back all the way to Downtown Vancouver (with sleeping boy in pram), and on to the library (with a stop at Blenz possibly), before walking across Downtown to catch the 44 bus back up with its spectacular views over the water.

For individual transport a decent bicycle helped no end – especially as going from campus across to Tenth Church’s building it was as quick as the bus – although not so much coming back…  I loved too the bike rides round the Pacific Forest Park and especially the fun of cycling down Marine Drive to Spanish Banks beach and along – back up was always hard work – whether via the slow pain of 4th or 8th, or the steep climb of 11th-15th. Vitally we benefited from others generously sharing their cars – some for a Christmas holiday period, others for evening trips to Superstore (with the soundtrack to Once playing on the car stero, as I geared up for the horror of organisation and customer service of a Vancouver supermarket), others for crisis hospital visits and some just so that we could go to the cinema in comfort.

Coming back to England we had the chance to get a car from friends moving overseas, and for 2 years it served our family well – as a means to go on holiday, for day trips, for shopping, for getting small children to sleep and us chance to talk – it has been great.  Now we say farewell. We are thankful that it died just before car tax was due.  We are thankful that two families at church have offered us use of their cars.  We said to our eldest at the Toyota/Lexus garage while we were waiting to see what could be done that he couldn’t expect to be in a Lexus any time soon – well, we have been offered use of a Lexus!

Personally I find it somewhat frustrating not to have a car – and it is constraining – but also a reminder not to be dependant on treasure here and now for satisfaction.  We lived 3 years without a car – it is possible.  I’m sure we will have a car at some point in the future.  But for now we figure out how to survive without it – grateful for the generosity of friends offering use of theirs and for supermarket online delivery so that at least I won’t have to do Wednesday evening supermarket trips.  Cheltenham buses are not quite as baby friendly as Vancouver ones, and neither is the pricing as good, but the D bus means we can get to Pitville Park, the town centre and the station easily enough, and from Cheltenham station we can get to most places easily enough by train.  The bike will get me into study into town – it is just a shame that a settlement the size of Bishops Cleeve has no decent cycle route into Cheltenham, and no safe footpath for a push chair and children.  In Vancouver we regularly walked to church (1hr 15mins) – but the same distance is just impossible here due to the lack of footpaths.

We have though now found a good park within a pleasant 30 minutes walk, which with the twin buggy/stroller means we can all get there to enjoy a tall slide, fun roundabout and good swings, all with a lovely view of Cleeve Hill.  Bigger trips will take more planning, and shatter the illusion of independance that a car gives.  I think this illusion is what is so good about a car.  Driving a car feels good because it makes me think I am independant and in control.  I go at my pace, and my choice.  Having a family somewhat changes this – now we stop because someone is crying or needs the toilet, but we can still set out when we choose, and take the route of our choice.

Not having a car makes me realise I need other people.  I might need to borrow their car.  I might need to get on a bus or a train driven by someone else, with other passengers.  I see others. I begin to appreciate something of their life.  At least I don’t need to be particularly awake. I might even doze off (if travelling on my own).  I can reappreciate the joys of bus travel with children – their excitement at sitting right at the back, or right at the front at the top of a double decker bus, and accept that I might not get somewhere quite as fast…

Our car may be dead, but life does indeed go on…