My 2013 Christmas letter
A friend complained on Facebook a few days ago that our generation have lost the art of writing a Christmas letter. I suppose with postal costs being so high, its easy to see why. Added to which, we get a drip-drip of social media updates throughout the year, so people’s desire to write a summary at the end of the year is lessened. Anyway, here are the highs, lows and other notable moments of the last year. Happy Christmas – and do share links to your own letters if you’ve put them online.
January last year saw me returning to Manchester to complete my six-month stint with Church Action on Poverty, and to writing job applications in earnest. I got a good number of interviews but never quite managed to be ‘the one’ – my first interview even phoned me up to apologise profusely for their means of tie-breaking. In February I finished up a resource pack that I was writing for Church Action on Poverty and Student Christian Movement to publish jointly, and presenting it at various events.
As a volunteer, it was easy enough to excuse myself for a day when enough snow had fallen, catch a train to Hadfield, and spend a day cross-country skiing around Woodhead Reservoir. I also got my cycling back up to standard and entered my first race of the season – in no way a success, but good to ‘pin on a number’ again! Training included a memorable morning crossing the ‘Cat and Fiddle’ pass from Macclesfield to Buxton in what I believe was a wind-chill-adjusted -6 Celsius.
Ceri came to visit me in Manchester, and I visited her in York on several occaisions. With no firm direction to go when I finished, my possessions mostly moved to my parents or to Ceri’s house in York which she shares with friends. They headed off on a bike ride over the summer (a mere 4,000 miles to Tehran!), and so I kept Ceri company in an empty house, filled in more applications, and continued to not get very far. I had a near scrape with a job in Birmingham and another where I was invited to meet the person I would jobshare with in Bradford, only to then be told the post was being re-advertised. My mental health wasn’t going to sustain much more of the process, so I took a half-conscious decision to get on with what I have in front of me: earning carer’s allowance by looking after Ceri through the remainder of her Masters and the many voluntary roles I get to work on.
Once it was realised I was back in York indefinitely, I was asked back on to the PCC of St Lawrence’s Church, despite resigning 8 months previously. The church is experiencing many ups and downs at the moment – ups in that the numbers attending are higher than in recent years, downs in that money and building issues are getting in the way of reaching and serving the people in the surrounding area, where there is much need.
Over the summer, some exciting things happened. York hit headlines in some large part because of a bunch of text messages I sent to people. With the English Defence League reportedly on their way, York Mosque put the kettle on, and around 150 locals arrived to drink tea with them in defiance of the racism whipped up in the wake of the Woolwich killing. Everyone of the guests I either knew or knew the person they had come with. I had included in my texts a local free-lance journalist – her pictures and writing made the Guardian and was then picked up around the world.
I managed to finish a cycle race in the same bunch as pretty much everyone else – a big confidence boost. And then I did it again, despite almost getting left behind halfway through and a crash in front of me in the closing miles. My sister, Elisabeth, got married in Ely Cathedral. The day was fantastic, and I enjoyed getting to know the new in-laws. This did, however, somewhat overshadow my birthday a day earlier.
A week after my sister’s wedding, I was in London for the launch of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity – thus far, the largest coalition of those willing to stand up for social justice in a time of widespread destruction of social provisions in this country and throughout Europe. When we launched our group in York, over 40 people showed up, and numbers remained at around 30 in meetings for weeks to come. I organised a successful day conference in York, with workshops on the NHS, Education, the economics of austerity and austerity & debt in the Global South (with Jubillee Debt Campaign). On 5th November, the York group built a model of a bonfire on top of the fountain in the city centre, and nearly a hundred messages from the public appeared on ‘flames’ around the edge of the fountain. More recently I organised the logistics on a Defend Education rally, with college tutors, university staff and lecturers, and students all marching in to town to mark a day of strike action.
In the late summer I cycled from York to my parents near Downham Market in 24hours, with a stop in Lincoln to stay a night with old friends. Three days later, I cycled the 90miles from Downham to Stratford, East London in 5 hours and (a frustrating) 1 minute – perhaps my biggest cycling achievement of the year. In late September, Ceri and I headed to Alnwick for one last stay, as my parents retirement home to be was on the market. That my parents have conceded owning a house so far away from the Rectory in Wimbotsham is something of a victory – I’m worried that the 250 mile round-trips weren’t worth it for the break they afforded. Since then, the house has sold, and they’re looking for something closer to Mum’s ‘house for duty’ base.
That trip to Alnwick with Ceri came to have a very special significance. After a mishap with Ceri’s bike on our way from station to house, we changed our plans and visited Alnwick Gardens. Somewhat spur of the moment, I decided the lovely late summer sun and tranquillity of the Rose Garden lent itself to a proposal, which Ceri instantly accepted! I’d been planning on ‘getting round to it’ for a while, but the timing was perhaps a bit impulsive! No wedding plans have been made other than ‘2015’, so hopefully next year’s letter will come with a date, time and location.
Talking of which, this year York will be welcoming the Liberal Democrats for their Spring Conference, and I’m helping to organise at least one event to share our concern at their complicity in various social and economic injustices. If you’d like to visit on Saturday March 8th, you’ll be most welcome to join us on a Yorkshire TUC hosted march through the city!
Recently, I was delighted to see that Church Action on Poverty have raised the ire of Ian Duncan Smith through circulating the image below. I would love to go back to working for them, but they’ll need a lot more money if that’s ever to happen – please do consider supporting them as they fight the causes of poverty in 21st Century Britain.
As we look forwards to 2014, I hope God blesses you with times of peace, and moves you with positive anger at the many ways in which people are suffering, both in Britain and Globally. See you next year!