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Saturday, 15 September 2018

The Joys and Regrets of Autumn.

Autumn. Well at least according to the Meteorological Office, which makes September 1st the start of Autumn. To me, the season begins at the Autumn Equinox, when the sun is directly over the Equator, on its way towards the southern Tropic of Capricorn. Thus making the day and night exactly the same length around the whole globe, with the exception of the Polar regions, where there is a perpetual twilight of dusk at the Arctic Ocean in the North, and an equal dawn over Antarctica. And that happens around September 21st or 22nd. Not September 1st. Therefore, while this is being written, technically it's still Summer. 

And so the world turns. And at the same time, it flies through space at a set path around the Sun, its axis remains at a constant 23.5 degree tilt from vertical, giving us the seasons, essential for life. Indeed, who would ever think that this is a well-designed cosmic mechanism? Back in the 70's, I was sitting at a G.C.E. Geography lesson in an evening class when the lecturer challenged us with a question: What do our planet and a spaceship have in common? No one could answer, including me.

Of course, both fly through space and both are crewed. Damn it! Why didn't I think of that? The only difference is that the crew of the spaceship has full control of the speed and direction of the ship. As for our planet, no human has any control, despite its large population of seven billion. However, he should have added a third. That is, both are designed. After all, nobody would bat an eyelid with the idea that the spaceship was designed and built by human (or even alien) hands. But the thought that the Earth has a Designer? That is a different matter altogether. Somehow, we seem content that our planet, with its dizzying complexity of life, had come to be by absolute chance, the result of a condensation of gas and dust floating across a vast cosmic expanse, and all by sheer coincidence as well.

And so, back in July, it was a joy to see many cheerful faces walking the pedestrianised streets, to watch them relax at a Starbucks or Costa Coffee, lightly dressed in casuals. Some of the younger men showing off their chests and bare arms through a tank top, others wore crew-necks, still others with open collars. The tie was more difficult to find than an oasis in the desert, such a well-to-do cloth status symbol looks to be confined to school children, news anchormen, estate agents and insurance brokers.

Newspaper photos show beaches packed with sunbathers, many daring to venture to their waists into the sea. Meanwhile, businesses thrive with high sales of ice cream, popsicles and seaside rock. Further inland, theme parks boasting gut-wrenching roller coasters, spinners, rifle stalls and water chutes, are all experiencing overcrowding, with long queues snaking from the gates to the more thrilling rides. But as with all things, there is always the underbelly. Many who were too pessimistic over our British climate headed to the airport for a flight out to Spain, Majorca or the party island of Ibiza. 

They tell us that they fly to the sunshine to escape the wet and windy British "Summer" but really it's little more than a booze cruise, with a touch of sunburn to complement. Most make it back home in fairly good form but not without the reported minority who had to pay a visit to a hospital or even banged up for the night. There are even reports of assaults, even murder of our tourists by the locals or by other tourists.

What has happened to travel, real travel? Like the trips I made which involved hiking the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail to stand by the fast-flowing Colorado River and then looking up at the fantastic display of stars on a clear night. Or snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef followed by time spent gazing up at the Southern Cross constellation with the whole sky streaked from horizon to horizon with the hazy band of the Milky Way. Or wading through a 2,700-year-old tunnel hewn out of solid rock deep beneath the ancient city of Jerusalem, a work of a team led by an Old Testament Biblical king. Then not forgetting the sub-tropical zoological gardens of San Diego with its spectacular canyon, nearby Sea World where I got thoroughly soaked by an orca, watching seals relax at San Francisco's Pier 39, and even admiring Vaillancourt Fountain, considered by many to be the city's ugliest monument.

Vaillancourt Fountain, San Francisco. Visited 1995.

Sure, I was not a teetotaler. I did allow myself an alcoholic drink or two, but never to excess. I did not find drunkenness to be a necessity. The sights I came to see were enough to blow my mind without the need for any stimulant! For me, just a mere sight of palm trees and cacti thriving in their own environments, the latter especially around Phoenix, Malta and Lanzarote; along with the mangroves with their roots underwater at high tide at the Pacific coast of Australia. All of these reminds me of such a beautiful world, rich with variety, which God had made for a combination of his own glory and as an inhabitation for mankind, for whom God the Son himself allowed incarnation in order to rescue us from our shortcomings.

Although when I was Down Under during June and July 1997, their "Winter" meant that it was slightly less warm, and wetter than had I gone in January, although it was in the thirties Celcius in North Queensland, but considerable cooler once in New South Wales. By the time I reached Sydney, I had to dress more heavily. But such a change in temperature from cool to hot was noticed immediately after stepping out of San Diego airport, after an overnight trans-Pacific flight to Los Angeles from Sydney. I was back in Summer. The point of all this is to emphasise the real joy of travel without the risk of drunkenness, hospital visits, a possible imprisonment, or even suffering from an assault.

And now, as I write this, another UK Summer is about to end, and Autumn is soon to begin. People have already begun to wear heavier clothing, the kids have taken their school uniform out of their wardrobes, and in the Press, reports of parents' displeasure over their school's overstrict discipline on what to wear and what not to wear begun to appear in newspapers. As some people have already complained, these articles keep on appearing around early September year after year. I guess this is part of British idiosyncrasy, this obsession with school uniform. Perhaps if I was able to rejuvenate myself to a teenager without losing a single strand of memory, I would like to walk into a school minus a tie and watch the reaction from the staff. And then if challenged, point to a nearby office and ask why most, if not all employees, can come in with their own freedom of expression. I would love to hear what the teacher or headmaster would have to say to that. 

But for me, Autumn has a wider meaning to life as a whole. It means the latter part of my life after retiring from work, a gradual decline in health, and for that matter, a greater restriction of travel. No, not quite housebound, at least not yet. For example, my original plan for this year was to take Alex to Marseilles on the south coast of France. Throughout the season, Eurostar runs trains directly from London St. Pancras to Marseilles St. Charles, passing through the Channel Tunnel. The idea was to visit the fantastic cliffs and rock formation of nearby Calanques National Park, with spectacular views delighting any landscape photographer.

But with Alex experiencing excruciating back pains, which are imminent, such a trip would be ruined, as I have to constantly monitor her condition, constantly looking out for any sign of distress. Not that the hiking trails are easily accessible to wheelchairs anyway. 

Therefore we enjoyed a train journey to North Wales instead, as this was her choice. Although feeling much safer staying in a country where any NHS hospital is free to the point of use, nevertheless, towards the end of our return journey into London, she was in agony with excruciating back pain. We left London Euston for a taxi ride to a nearby hospital where she eventually made a good recovery. But the dreadful thought of, for example, having to alight from the Eurostar train at Lyon for a dash to the city hospital, then face a mountain of French bureaucracy, and still be landed with a huge bill - this cannot bear thinking about.

As for me, in my present condition, I cannot imagine attempting another hike down into Grand Canyon. Now diagnosed with heart failure and on a lifelong course of Warfarin, this 19.2-mile return trip to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch could do me in, especially at the last three miles up Jacob's Ladder, the series of tough switchbacks up the South Rim wall. Yet I still have some regrets. I have never tried the nearby South Kaibab Trail, which offers even more spectacular views. But as with the Calanques National Park, such a loss is something I will have to live with.

With me being well into my sixties, I always consider how fortunate I really am. Past generations were fortunate to reach this age, and if they did, it was normally visualised as a white-haired gentleman smoking a pipe, confined to his armchair in front of a blazing coal-fire and surrounded by his grandchildren. Rather how one in his mid-eighties would look like in our present day. The Beatles even released a hit in 1967, When I'm Sixty Four, in their album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, depicting the typical character that would befit an eighty-four-year-old gentleman of today. It was a song I thought much of after my 64th birthday, however, I do not think that a weekly routine of lane swimming, long walks, gym workouts and cycling over five miles each way were any part of the Beatles' equation for one of my age.

And I am thankful to God for my being, the ability to reach an age of retirement, yet still regularly swim, cycle, walk and use the Concept 2 rowing machine. These exercises were the advice my Doctor delivered to me at the end of my convalescence following my heart surgery in 2015. But not all for nothing. I have a job to do, a job which I believe God has assigned to me to last throughout retirement. And that is to love, care for and look after my partially disabled wife.

If it takes sacrificing that which I love most - international travel - then so be it. I know it hurts, it hurts me quite badly, but with God's help and through his grace, my love I have for my wife will triumph. However, I do believe that God can and does work in mysterious ways, who knows, one day we could be on board a Eurostar train once again or even, heaven forbid, heading for the airport. But these things I leave in God's hands. I am aware that he knows best, and he wants to have the best for us. Indeed, to have the National Health Service free to the point of use is something to thank God for. Whether we ought to believe in divine miracles or not, the NHS is certainly a very useful, life-saving channel, and I thank God for giving us all brains capable of retaining knowledge no other animal species can retain, and then putting such knowledge into such good use.

I'm lucky to be alive! Sure, so very true. And as God keeps me breathing, the breath of life entering my nostrils which then passes through the trachea to fill the little alveoli which make up my lungs, with oxygen, which in turn enters my bloodstream pumped by my heart - indeed, the moment God withdraws the breath of life, my spirit and soul departs from my body, leaving a corpse ready for burial...

Suddenly, everything falls into place, I'm in the autumn of my life, only God knows how many days I have left to live under the sun. But it is my hope, my prayer, that I fulfil God's will in my life, whether I will ever travel again or not, for the remaining days I have left.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Praise God for the blessings He bestows even in the autumn of our lives! Not only can we thank Him for the many blessings and opportunities He has given us, but we can look forward to His ongoing plans for us. He gives us examples of Caleb, Joshua and others to remind us that we are never too old to possess the mountain of His blessing.
    Thanks as always for the thoughtful post and God bless,

  2. God has given us choices, and we can either complain about the things we didn't experience or rejoice about the ones we did. Our choice will determine whether the autumn of our life is happy or miserable. I'm glad you are enjoying what God has given you.

  3. Hi Frank,
    I agree absolutely that all things are possible with God, and age does not matter. I praise God that He has brought about two, which I believe are miraculous, healings in my life - one concerning myself and the other concerning our gorgeous little cat.
    Regarding the past, my husband and myself have no regrets as we always had the thought 'Just do it' in our head and went to many places only starting out on a ten pound assisted passage on a ship to Australia. I used to go snorkelling with my brother when I lived in Adelaide. I remember one time when we were quite some distance off shore and I went up to get some fresh air, leaving my brother spear fishing. The spotter plane was right above me with a red flag waving. The whole of the crowd on the beach were stood up. I went back down, brought my brother up and he saw everything himself. He removed a fish from his spear, as we knew that it could involve a shark being spotted. I swam back to the beach with my eyes closed. When we got back we were informed that there were seven sharks between us and the beach. If I had known that I could not imagine me swimming back. It could only have been the Lord that prevented us from being attacked. Now, in the autumn of my life I am seeking more and more of the Lord than at any other time, and learning more as I do.
    God bless you and Alex with all that He has for us.

  4. This is Superb. I want to tell you how much I appreciated your clearly written and thought-provoking article.

    who lives in Oregon

  5. I don’t know why I have so much trouble getting my posts to come up, sigh...trying again...
    My dear hubby and I travel a lot, but not as much as you and Alex have been blessed to do, but we too are thankful for all the Lord has blessed us with. Some blessings don’t require us to leave home at all. ☺️
    We do hope to buy a van with which we can do extended road trips, perhaps a year or two from now, Lord willing. And I do hope we can one day visit Israel...time will tell, but all the adventures the Lord has been with us on have been wonderful ❤️