Olympic medalling

Ellesmere Port gets the Olympics

I was there – at the Olympics on the day that Team GB won 3 golds in an hour! So were 70,000 others at Old Trafford to see Japan beat Egypt (eventually down to 9 men) 3-0. I got the Olympic sprit, had a great time and look forward to a return to Old Trafford on Tuesday to see the semifnals. It could have been Team GB v Brazil.

My blog stats read like the Olympic medal table. Except United States lead and UK comes second. China are nowhere – but it’s good to see French Polynesia getting a look in (only once, so not shown). The Olympic spirit is being in touch with each other, graciously. By the way, when did “medal” become a verb? I medalled, you medalled, he medalled, she medalled, they medalled.

Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

Having helped my son and his girlfriend into another new flat this weekend I have yet another new entry in my address book for him. It’s nothing new – this is my third son, and each of them has managed to collect what seems to be dozens of postcodes. Back in 1971 Carole King (it’s the 40th anniversary of the album “Tapestry) asked the question “doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?”- just at the point when I was beginning my own wanderings through university and my first three postcodes in Sheffield.

The expectation is that we will keep moving and that if we can’t find work we will “get on our bikes” – or in the case of Ellesmere Port where I now live, “get on the canals” (there is an estate named after Wolverhampton that serves as a reminder of the migration from the West Midlands at the beginning of the 20th century). As we’ve gone on the pace of movement has increased – I find it strange, but laudable, to think of doctors and dentists serving the same community throughout their careers (often from the same room and chair).

Gerald Schlabach reflects on the Benedictine vow of stability – and recalls the wisdom of Scott Sanders in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994). Sanders thinks that modern culture is wrong in implying that “the worst fate is to be trapped on a farm, in a village, in the sticks, in some dead-end job or unglamourous marriage or played-out game.” “People who root themselves in places are likelier to know and care for those places than are people who root themselves in ideas.”

When I visited a grieving family in a tiny farm labourer’s cottage and heard that the lady who had died had never slept any where else, and that she had never travelled further than the market 20 miles away I did think that “this person has never lived”. But maybe we spread ourselves too thin in a state that is not stable. She may not have gone far (how we love that phrase “you’ll go far”) but she may have lived deep.

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It has taken a Volf (a Miroslav) to remind me that I am a Fox living amongst Wolves. Leicester City FC shirts are a rarity in Ellesmere Port. Not so Wolves shirts. Ellesmere Port is the place where many people travelled from Wolverhampton and the west Midlands – walking along the Shroppy Canal – to find work in Jones’s Ironworks. Wolverham is an estate which marks that geographical link. Ellesmere Port the birthplace of Stan Cullis, player and  manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers during their glory years. He was an England international until he refused to give the Nazi salute when England played Germany in 1938. As manager in 1949, he led the Wolves to an FA Cup win over, of all teams, the Foxes!

In Against the Tide Volf reminds his readers that “more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century than in the previous centuries combined”. He refers to the unambiguity of Jesus sending out his disciples min Matthew’s gospel. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves …” Suffering, persecution and martyrdom are to be the rule rather than the exception for the Christian following the one who gave his life for the sake of others. Suffering, according to Martin Luther, is a mark of the true church. Volf writes:

For the disciples just like for Jesus, there is no uncontested space, no exit from the struggle, and therefore no way to avoid suffering.

But life doesn’t seem like that. Living is easy. It’s an easy life being a fox living amongst wolves. Have I forgotten to be a sheep – following the Good Shepherd? Maybe. I’d rather be a sheep in fox’s clothing than a fox in sheep’s clothing. I could still be cunning as a fox – after all Jesus did say “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent of doves.” The cunning of the fox, and the wisdom of the serpent both stretch the imagination -as we try to overcome evil with good.

>Wizard Day Out

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I am becoming fascinated by our canals. Our local canal – the Shropshire Union – protects some of our local natural beauty and I have been enjoying running the towpath through Stoak and Croughton by Ellesmere Port.

Our half term outing was on a hired barge along the Bridgewater Canal courtesy of three volunteers who crew the Wizard for the Disability Partnership.

This is a wonderful facility which I hope escapes the cutbacks in social services.

I remember people talking to me about their families walking the Shropshire Union Canal in search of work – walking all the way from Wolverhampton till they found work in Ellesmere Port. I wonder how many times they had stopped off on the way to ask potential employers if they had any work.

>Two wonderful people

> Easter Day at St Andrew’s Tarvin was “daffodil Sunday” – presumably because of the association between spring, new life and resurrection. It didn’t take us long to realise that the daffodil is the flower of the meadows of the Greek underworld. The asphodel (daffodil) meadows is the region where the dead were supposed to spend eternity. A river runs through these elysian meadows. To the far side of the river those whose lives were neither good not bad were ferried. In the crossing identity was drained away and they emerged into the meadows peopled by those who were neither one thing nor another. (A further place – Tartarus – was for the evil and treacherous.

Two wonderful people we know have died in the last week. Brenda Stride I did not know well. Jen Murray I have known for nearly 30 years. It was speaking to her family that prompted the thought on the daffodil and the elysian fields as the destination for both of them.

Both Jen and Brenda have been local heroes here in Ellesmere Port. Both have given their lives for children. Brenda has spent her life working with pre-school children: Jen’s teaching career has been in three local schools – John Street, Sutton Green and Stanlaw Abbey on Stanney Grange. She was Head at Stanlaw from 1974 to 1991 (I was working the same patch – a 70’s housing estate – ’83-’93). What was remarkable about Jen was her passion for life and for others. She was a wonderful host which showed itself in the school she helped to create at Stanlaw. Appreciating Jen’s work, her friend and advisor, Vernon Hale, commented on the beauty and optimism of the place (this was at a time of really high unemployment in the community). The school was a real oasis of calm (aka a “beacon”) in which, as Vernon wrote, the children had the opportunity to “experiment”, “speculate” and “create”.

The commitment of both Brenda and Jen spans many decades. They have loved hundreds of local children and had a real impact on their families. I wonder at the impact that these two lives have had on Ellesmere Port and the communities that make up this town so low on self-esteem. It would be good to know whether such passion does shape lives and inspire others. I am sure it has done for many. In the end we have to leave them to stroll the elysian fields – on the side of the river where everybody is somebody. For us, consolation is the satisfaction of having been entertained by hearts and minds big enough to embrace all those in their world with love, and the knowledge that they in turn are entertained at the heart of God’s glory.

We have David C Laurie to thank for the photo.

And here’s Sting singing of those elysian fields of gold: