New Years Eve

Today is New Years Eve. And to be honest, I think most of us will be glad to see the back of 2020. I like symmetry, and there was a certain symmetry about the number 2020 that I liked, and I started the year with high hopes. But we had hardly started negotiating our way down the 2020 road, when we got bogged down in the ruts, and seemingly derailed, making every step forward an effort. People have had their freedoms curtailed, people have got sick, people have sadly died, and at times it has been incredibly difficult.

So has anything good come out of 2020? As I walk down the road with my dog, people say ‘Good morning,’ from 2 metres away, when once they might have passed us by; and that is heart-warming. On some occasions I have stopped to chat for 15 minutes or more, with someone I’ve never met before. Neighbours have popped by, or called over the fence to check I’m ok, or if I need any shopping. And I have got to know new people who live nearby. So yes, there are good things that have come out of this difficult and unpredictable year.

Now 2020 is slipping away, and as I watch out of my study window, dusk is falling, and night is coming. Will tomorrow be any better I ask myself? Is it worth stepping over the thresh-hold into next year? Can I summon up the strength to keep being optimistic? Well yes! If I take all the good things I have learned from 2020, things that have changed me for the better; and if I am prepared to learn more good things in 2021. Then, yes, there is still space to be optimistic.

There can be no parties tonight; not because we don’t want them, but because we’re not allowed. We won’t have a drink together to welcome the new year, but it will come anyway. Tomorrow morning the sun will rise again with new hopes, even if they are hidden for a while by dark clouds. So I end by wishing you all comfort and peace for 2021.

My Christmas Diary

December 19th Christmas is just around the corner

This morning it is crisp and cold. The sky is pale blue, with white streaks of cloud meandering way up high, like tattered curtains. Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last few leaves still clinging to the old oak tree.
Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?

December 20th Christmas is drawing nearer

This morning the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. It is chill and damp, and the bushes and plants are laden with water droplets. The air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something incredible is just about to happen.
In Nazareth Mary and Joseph are preparing for a long journey. They have to go to Bethlehem to register for the census. It’s not a good time to travel, as Mary is expecting her baby very soon. The donkey is ready, food packed, and a few simple baby clothes carefully stowed away, just in case.

December 21st The shortest day of the year

Today is the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky, and it is the first official day of winter. It is a day stuck between dark and light, on the knife-edge between the seasons. This week, each afternoon has been cut shorter than the one before, by an ever earlier dusk. Sometimes there has been a flurry of sunset red and gold, but fading quickly into long black night. Today maybe the shortest day, but the hope of longer days dawns tomorrow, albeit very slight at first. The see-saw has fallen, light will have won again; for a time.
But still we hold our breath and wait, for an everlasting light. We have carefully hung our decorations, hoping that a few strings of twinkling Christmas lights will lessen the gloom. For soon we will welcome the Light of the World, who seeks to take away the darkness within us all, forever.

December 22nd On the way

Mary and Joseph are well on their way. The path is rocky, and there is still a long way to go. The roads are very busy, busier than usual. And the towns and villages are bustling with people, all travelling to their home towns for the census.

December 23rd Getting closer

Christmas preparations have stepped up a gear, the day is fast approaching. Most of the presents are wrapped, the cards are written and sent. The shopping is done, and too much food is tightly packed away in the fridge and freezer. Family would usually have been on their way by now, through the festive traffic jams. But this year the roads are strangely empty. Plans have been changed, or cancelled, almost at the last minute, hearts are heavy, faces sad.
Far far away in the East some oriental gentlemen have been looking up excitedly at the new star in the night sky. After checking their ancient writings, they have decided to saddle up their camels and follow the star in search of the new king it proclaims.

December 24th Nearly there

It’s Christmas Eve, the presents are piled around the tree, and it’s too late now to send any more cards. Carols are playing in the background, and there is a smell of mulled wind coming from the kitchen. We’re all trying to make the best of it.

“We’re nearly there. Time for bed you children. Santa will still be coming, and he’ll be wanting his sherry and mince-pie, so we’ve left it on out on the table. So off to bed now, and listen out for the reindeer. Oh, and no peeking till morning.”

“We’re nearly there Mary. I can see the lights of Bethlehem up ahead.”
“Hurry up Joseph, I think I can feel the baby coming.”
“Hold on a little longer Mary. There’s no room at the inn, but I’m told there’s a stable around the back.”

“Are you nearly ready, Gabriel? Are the angel choirs assembled? Are their trumpets tuned? Are they ready to tell the shepherds the minute the baby arrives?”

“Are you nearly there Wise-men from the East, bringing your gifts?”
“No. A long way to go yet, I think we may be a little late.”

Wait through the night. It may be dark, but morning will soon be here.

December 25th Perfect timings

It’s Christmas morning, and as usual things don’t always go to plan. Even in normal years the turkey can take longer than expected to cook, and the Christmas pudding can flame too high! But this year in particular, everything has been very different.

But God’s timings are always perfect.

The star hovers over Bethlehem, and there is the sound of a baby crying, Mary and Joseph found the stable just in time. The angels filled the sky with their songs, and the shepherds were suitably amazed and rushed straight off to see the baby.

The Wise-men, however, are still en route from the East, but that’s how it was planned to be, we always knew they would be late – they’ve had a long way to come!

December 26th A new beginning

And so the stage has been set, the cast assembled, and the baby born. God’s preparations were impeccable, everything happened at just the right time. And now we watch and wait, because through the birth, and through the life and death of this baby, God is changing the world, one person at a time.

And this Christmas especially, may God shine his light into your darkness, and may He give you peace.

A Sunday afternoon in the Yarra Valley

We had a great afternoon drive through the Victorian Yarra Valley yesterday. We drove the twists and turns of the mountain range roads, with the smell of eucalyptus streaming in through the car window, before stopping for a very nice late lunch at Beechworth Bakery in Healesville. From there we drove on to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, where we watched chocolates being made, sampled some ‘pastilles’ (large chocolate dots), and then had the hard task of choosing what to buy from the huge selection of chocolate goodies on view! We continued on through the valley, where cows munched the lush green grass, and trestle bridges spanned the rivulets that meandered down to the Yarra River, until we reached the Yarra Valley Dairy. There we tasted some of their cheeses, and decided on a delicious soft chevre & dill cheese and a tasty hard cheese. From there we just had time to visit Yering Station Winery, and sample some of their wines from the Yarra Valley. We came away with a bottle of Sparkling Rose Creme de Cuvee, and a 2019 off-dry Riesling.

Chocolate, cheese and wine, what more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon?


Yarra Junction and the Upper Yarra Museum

Yesterday we visited Yarra Junction, Australia. Yarra Junction is where the Yarra River and the Little Yarra River meet, in the mountainous Yarra Ranges of Victoria. In the past it was also the junction of the 36 inch gauge Powelltown Timber Tramway with the standard gauge Victorian Railway. It is said that more timber has passed through Yarra Junction than any other town in the world except Seattle in the USA! We had a very interesting visit to the Upper Yarra Museum, which is housed in the 1888 station building and various out-buildings, including a railway cottage and blacksmiths. The station building itself is the only remaining station from the Lilydale to Warburton Railway Line, which was relocated from Lilydale to Yarra Junction in 1914. There are numerous exhibit, models and artifacts to do with gold-mining, pioneer settlement, timber, farming etc from the local area. The museum is maintained and managed by the volunteers of the Upper Valley Historical Society, some of whom were on hand to explain particular exhibits.
The museum is open on Sunday and Wednesdays, and is well worth a visit.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne

Last Sunday we took a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. We started off with a good lunch in Boon Wurrung Cafe, and then had a leisurely walk around the beautiful gardens. It was a dull day, but not too cold, and the rain stayed off long enough for us to enjoy the spring flowering plants and trees.

Little birds, called Honey Eaters were darting in and out of the flowers, supping on nectar – they were far too fast for me to capture on camera, but a Superb Fairy Wren paused long enough for me to get his picture.

There are a number of different walks around the gardens, depending on your fitness level, and the time you have available, and for a Sunday afternoon with rain forecast, the short one suited us fine. We finished at the cafe for a final cup of tea, and got back to the car just as the rain was starting.

Mont De Lancey Homestead

Yesterday the weather was very changeable, so we decided to go somewhere to suit all eventualities, and were not disappointed with the Mont De Lancey Homestead in the Yarra Valley. While we watched a short film explaining the history of the Homestead, it rained heavily, but by the time we came out into the gardens, it was warm sunlight. There were trees all around the well-kept lawns, fruit trees, ornamental trees and a huge old oak tree planted in 1880. The cottage garden in front of the homestead was bright and colourful with spring flowers, wisteria, camelia and aquilegia, and there was the smell of jasmine and lilac in the air.
Pioneer stonemason Henry Sebire arrived in Melbourne from Guernsey in 1850. In 1867 he moved with his wife Martha and four children to Wandin Yallock, where he leased 80 acres of recently surveyed crown land in order to grow food to help feed the ever expanding population of Melbourne. The Homestead itself was built in the 1880’s, using bricks made and fired on the property. The Homestead is furnished with authentic pioneer furniture and household items, along with photographs and memorabilia from the Sebire family. Outside the homestead is a well, and a few metres further on is a rather interesting timber slab kitchen – a completely separate building, so that should the kitchen catch fire the house itself would remain untouched. Inside there is a kitchen range, with many old pots and pans, and other kitchen equipment and utensils. Around the back of the kitchen is a small dairy. Also on the site is St Mary’s Chapel, a quaint timber church from the 1920’s; a blacksmiths shop, and other farm buildings, vintage farm vehicles and machinery, plus a museum and gift shop.
All in all, Mont De Lancey Homestead is well worth visiting, but do pay the little extra and have a tour, it certainly added interest and enjoyment to our visit.
Mont De Lancey Homestead is situated in Wandin North, in the Yarra Valley, Victoria 3139, and is less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne. It’s not open every day, so do check opening times before you go.


King Parrot

I’m on holiday in Australia, staying with my sister and family in Beaconsfield, Victoria. It’s a beautiful area, and their house is situated at the head of a long wooded valley, teeming with wildlife and birds, all very different to those I’m familiar with back home in England. It’s spring here in Australia, and I’ve been woken every morning by the laughing call of Kookaburras, and the burbling of Australian Magpies. While we were having lunch on the veranda, a pair of King Parrots entertained us with their chattering, and stayed long enough for me to grab my camera, and photograph this one before it flew away.

Pooh Sticks

A couple of weeks ago, I took my three-year old grandson to the park, and on the way back we crossed a small stream. So, of course we stopped to play Pooh Sticks. You know the game – drop a stick over one side of the bridge, dash to the other side before the stick floats through. Sometimes the stick appeared very quickly, and sometimes it took a little longer. Once we thought we’d lost the stick altogether, but we waited, and at last it broke free of the brambles or whatever had entangled it, and off it drifted down the stream.

I shared this picture with my church on Sunday morning; how sometimes our lives get caught up, just like that stick got caught up under the bridge, and we must shake off what has grabbed hold of us; or maybe we just need a ‘whoosh’ of the Holy Spirit to set us free. It got me thinking a bit more. There we are, sailing along that river we call life. Most of the time it seems, life just takes us, and we bob along quite happily with the current. Sometimes we dance crazily along on the crest of little waves, other times we drift aimlessly, meandering round life’s bends as if we have all the time in the world. Often (or so I’ve found) we get caught up on things out to get us, or rubbish that other people throw into our lives, just like the little stick entangled by brambles and creepers. When we realise this, we need to make a conscious effort to push on through, or ask God to help us. As we sail on down this river we call life, there are also currents to negotiate, and rocks to avoid, where the best we can do is just stay afloat. But we are always moving onward, we can never go back, only move on. And as I travel on this river we call life, I am very glad I don’t have to do it on my own. I am very glad I have my friends and family around me, and I am very glad I have God, who is ever-present, and willing to help as soon as I ask.

Only One

This morning I read in the Bible that God camped in the very middle of the Israelite camp (Numbers 2:1). He loved them and wanted to be with them. He wanted them to know He was there; to teach them how to truly live with Him; to travel with them and guide them.

So I had a little conversation with God, that went a bit like this:

God, I know You are here too, in the middle of my life, in my mess, because you say you love me and want to be with me. To guide me and travel through life with me. So Lord, why is it you want to be with me, in my mess?
Because you are my child and I love you. I love to be with you, to walk closely with you and hold your hand.

But why me? when there are thousands and millions of others who are better than me and much cleverer than me. Those who are more important and certainly more worthy than I am. You love them, and walk with them, so why do you want me as well?
Because there is no one else like you, you are unique and I want to be in the centre of your life.
And because there is only one you.