We’ve gone! We left Noorderdreef 152 on Friday evening 20th March and drove off to board the overnight ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich. This was quite surreal: only 40 cars and 60 passengers on the huge car ferry and the motorways and service areas all the way up through England were almost deserted (see photo of the M25 close to London at morning rush hour!). It was much the same on the overnight Birkenhead to Belfast boat on Monday 23rdM25 March 2020

After a quick food shop at a local supermarket at 7am, we arrived at our new home in Lower Ballinderry and have been here ever since (see photo in our garden). No family visits, no calling on friends, no chats with neighbours… but then you know all about that, because we’re all in the same boat. Except that we are not all in the same boat: yesterday we received a list of 56 doctors and at least 32 allied health professionals from our church who are all risking their lives to treat and care for others during this coronavirus emergency.   Clapping our hands for our carers this week was a great idea, but lifting our hands to pray for them is an even better one. Let’s pray for those who are doing all they can to care for those in danger and distress at present.  May God protect them and their families in these unprecedented times and let those of us whose only sacrifice is to stay at home do it with gratitude and not complaint.

D and D in garden Mar 2020

Our homecoming has been one of the strangest experiences of our lives. May it help us reflect on what is important and value what is eternal.

Going, going…

bike for sale Dot is selling her bike. This is a clear sign that we are about to leave the Netherlands – having no bike in this country is regarded as a very strange approach to life. In fact, our friends here keep asking why we are not taking the bike with us to Northern Ireland. Sounds like a good idea for a prospective retiree, but then we remember that our native land is hilly, with winding country roads, hardly any proper cycle tracks and a much less tolerant attitude to cyclists. All in all, quite dangerous for elderly ladies on two wheels. Much safer to exercise on two feet, though Dot is making no promises!

Meanwhile, packing is now in full swing. packing We kept all the boxes we brought here four years ago, so now we just have to get them reassembled, refill them and come home. Right? Wrong! It’s amazing how much stuff we have accumulated since moving to Nieuw Vennep and it all has to be sorted – some brought home, some sold on Marktplaats (the Dutch answer to Gumtree) and the rest taken to a local kringloop (huge Aladdin’s caves full of secondhand goods – every town has at least one kringloop). Actually, most of our furniture came from these emporia, so it seems appropriate to take a lot of it back there.

From here on we will be saying a lot of farewells – farewell coffee time at the Baptist House, David’s last preach at the English Reformed Church, farewell IBTS Centre team meal, farewell party with neighbours… which makes us ask ourselves the question: What will we miss about the Netherlands? Quite a few things, really:  work colleagues at the Baptist House; neighbours in Nieuw Vennep – especially Gijs (6) and Dirk (2) who have adopted Dot as their ‘Oma’ (granny); Studio 2 – the lovely little restaurant in the Flower Market in Amsterdam where we have lunch most Sundays;  Dutch Direct – the tendency here to say exactly what you mean and ask very direct questions (one of us already has this tendency so will probably continue); the stimulating preaching and wonderful music at the English Reformed Church in Amsterdam www.ercadam.nl and probably many other things that we will only realise when we have left the country!


 Ok, what’s the first thing comes into your head when you hear the word ‘Dogma’? It probably isn’t hot dogs, but in Utrecht there is the marvellous Dogma restaurant which serves the most wonderful and creative hot dogs imaginable.

My first visit to Dogma was to meet with Heine Siebrand to pick his brains about a little-known Dutch philosopher and pastor called Willem F Zuurdeeg. Heine, like the late Willem Zuurdeeg, is a Remonstrant pastor and philosopher. He graciously shared his knowledge of Zuurdeeg and was able to provide me with some unique insights and information which greatly aided my understanding of Zuurdeeg and his work. Maybe sometime I’ll share more about Zuurdeeg but in this post I want to introduce and say thanks to Heine.

Heine taught philosophy after completing his PhD on Baruch Spinosa, one of the most influential 17th Century philosophers and, while he had no real intention to ever become a pastor, found himself elected as the pastor of a congregation who decided they knew best and would not take no for an answer! As a consequence of the democratic dictat of these good people, Heine became a pastor in the Remonstrant Brotherhood. The Brotherhood finds it origins in the 17th Century as a consequence of a dispute over the theology of Calvinism within Dutch Protestantism. Given the close marriage of the church and the state in the 17th Century (never a good thing at any time), those who concurred with the views of Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius found themselves imprisoned or ostracised. As a consequence the Remonstrant Brotherhood emerged as a distinct community of believers.

Remonstrants are known as liberal in a strict sense, generally decrying strict formulations of belief they allow people of personal faith to write their own confession of faith when they become a member. As a consequence, it is often assumed that they have no real beliefs at all and are considered by some as irredeemable heretics – all too often the way to deal with those who won’t follow the conventional way of thinking. However, my encounter with Heine as well as reading and learning from Zuurdeeg has been a thoroughly enriching intellectual and spiritual experience and I’m grateful to both!

Thanks Heine.

PS – if you ever have reason to be in Utrecht, make your way to Dogma and sample the best of hot dogs. All the information you’ll need is here http://www.dogmahotdogs.com/ Come to think of it, Dogma’s a good reason to make it your business to visit Utrecht!

Learning to walk – again!

Learning to walk I’ve never not been able to get about. It’s one of the odd things about creaking hips – unless they reach the stage of ‘dire’ it’s usually possible to hobble about somehow or other.  I hadn’t reached the stage of ‘dire’ but nevertheless compensating for the increasingly creaking hip meant that I tended to lop about, earning the nickname ‘hop-a- long’ from my wonderfully insensitive Dutch pastor (I like Lance, I understand his method, I think Lance and I probably skipped the pastoral care lessons when at college). So, it’s down to my physio Klaas both to get the new hip properly mobilised and get me walking upright – and not like some hairy creature that dropped out of the nearest tree to forage on the jungle floor.

It’s an interesting experience having to practise doing something that used to be perfectly natural, something you never stop to think about until you can’t, like walking. And, among other things, it requires a lot of trust. Trusting that this chrome cobalt metal hip joint that’s been rammed down the inside of your leg bone will a) not dislocate or b) not shatter your leg bone into a million pieces, is the first psychological challenge. The second is to trust your physio. I often hear a voice in my head saying things like ‘It’s ok for you, big lad, you haven’t just had a hip replacement’, or ‘You want me to do that ten times three times over – you’re pulling my leg’. But, I have to hand it to him, Klaas clearly knows what he’s doing, even when he has me on the bench and it feels like he is literally pulling my leg. Anyway, I’m by no means the first person he has managed to get up and moving again.

As I leave behind the need for crutches and anticipate my first foray on public transport in the next few days, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have access to first class health care and resources. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to become increasingly debilitated without the prospect of relief or repair, as is the case for many. So, I reckon the very least I can do is make the most of the opportunity that’s been given to me, learn to walk again and then go do something useful!

My Naked Foot

 The experience of hip surgery has been an interesting and challenging experience. First, there’s the fact that I haven’t had a stay in hospital for any kind of surgery for over 55 years, when I had my tonsils removed. I don’t remember much about the tonsil episode other than standing at the window watching my parents and brother drive away after depositing me on the ward (parents weren’t welcome to hang around in those days) and the ice cream and jelly served post-operatively. Arriving on the ward of the hospital in Hoofddorp two weeks ago at 06:45 to be prepped for surgery at 08:00 was a very alien experience.

Second, the level of sophistication of the medical care here in the Netherlands and the fact that I only waited a few months for the op, stands in stark contrast to what I hear is the situation in Northern Ireland. Plenty of staff, large clutter-free corridors, QR coded wrist bands and everything happening exactly when you are told to expect it, meant that there was plenty at which to marvel.  Mind you, everyone is obliged to take out health insurance on top of income and social taxes, so the system is well funded.

Third, the challenge of coming to terms with a measure of disability, even though temporary, has been a salutary experience. It’s best typified by my naked right foot.  There are strict rules about the level of movement in the operated leg permitted during the first weeks of recovery, including never allowing the angle between your raised leg and the rest of your body to be less than 90 degrees. Break that rule and the hip is likely to dislocate and that would introduce a whole new world of pain and grief! Consequently, because I didn’t invest in one of those aids for putting on your socks, I’m entirely dependent on Dot dressing my naked right foot each morning. Most other things I can manage myself – but not that. On the day after the op I could walk with a zimmer frame or crutches and mobility has improved markedly since.  I can shower, dress, cook, make coffee, climb stairs – even if somewhat slower than usual – but I can’t put on my right sock.

My naked foot stares at me from the end of the bed, it mocks my inability to get anywhere near it. It dares me to try and calls me pathetic when I don’t. I believe I heard it threaten to go find another leg somewhere that would care for it better – but maybe that was the painkillers talking. As time goes on, it seems my naked foot is teaching me something about dependence, patience and humility.

I had been well briefed by the medical staff on what to expect post-operatively, but no one mentioned the challenge of the naked foot.

Hip hip hooray!

David making coffeeDavid’s got a new right hip. After only two nights in hospital, he came home a week ago and is making good progress. He has mastered the typically Dutch narrow, winding staircase in our house – always remembering the technique ‘Good leg up’; ‘Bad leg down’. For those who know about David’s passion for coffee, you can see in the photo that he has retaken control of the coffee machine – one hand is quite sufficient. In the past couple of days the rain has stopped and so David has started pounding the footpaths around us on his crutches, often receiving encouraging greetings and thumbs-up signals from our friendly neighbours as he passes. We have been overwhelmed by all the cards, emails, phone calls and text messages we have received, reminding us that so many of our family, work colleagues and friends are thinking of us and praying for David’s recovery. david-and-islay.jpg This weekend our daughter Cathy, along with her three-year-old daughter Isla, came to visit. Isla brought David a box of his favourite Tunnocks teacakes and announced, ‘These will make you all better’. We do hope so! Our sincere thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes. Tunnocks

Who needs a passport anyway?

passport photo cropped Turns out everyone does. Especially in Spain. Even David. However, getting carried away with the whole EU borderless travel idea, he left his behind in Nieuw Vennep when we set off for this year’s Monti Autumn Adventures. This was fine in France, where campsites readily accepted our ACSI Camping Card as proof of ID. But then we drove into Spain and things changed. We needed to produce our passports before being admitted to any campsite. Tricky! So, like ET, we phoned home and our good friends Mike and Helen rescued us by posting David’s passport to our other good friends Andrew and Ruth in Barcelona for us to collect. 20190923_092701 Meanwhile, back in Monti, we headed off across the Pyrenees, enjoying the amazing scenery and staying each night in an Aire along the route (free, unstaffed parking areas for motorhomes and campervans, which have services for filling and discharging water tanks and emptying chemical toilets, but no showers or toilets). We then stayed two nights with Andrew and Ruth outside Barcelona, reminiscing about primary school days in Dundonald and church activities at Windsor in the 1990s, shared our family and work news and probably thoroughly bored their polite and very patient sons Matthew and Reuben! Then David’s passport arrived and we continued on our way through Andorra and back into France for a week of glorious sunshine before entering Belgium for a cold, rainy reintroduction to life back in northern Europe. Happy days! The Lesson for Life in all this? Always carry your passport – especially if you are touring Spain or going to live in post-Brexit Northern Ireland!