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Saturday, 28 December 2019

Two Decades, Looking Back...

As I get older, time seems to fly. Especially after retirement from 47 years at a full-paid job, the last 35 years being self-employed. But since this is the final blog of not only the year 2019 but the whole of the 2010s, here I would like to look back at the enormous changes over the last twenty years which enabled us to strengthen our marriage bond and to feel the privilege to take on a new responsibility as a carer, something I had never anticipated during my earlier years of both bachelorhood or married life alike.

2010 began not long after our 10th anniversary. During those days making up the first three years of the 2010s decade, Alex began to suffer from periodic back trouble every day. This I believe, was a psychosomatic throwback of both mental and emotional stresses we both suffered towards the latter end of 2004 and much of 2005, the sort of traumas which could have ended our marriage, but for remembering the wedding vows made before both God and the congregation in 1999, with God's help, I was determined to make our marriage not only stable but strong and robust. And Alex had no intention of separating, either, even though she was advised to do so by Social Services!

But it was also the time of fulfilled dreams. So highly valued were our wedding anniversaries that we made something of them. These included trips abroad as well as within the UK. Overseas destinations within this decade included Kos, Malta, and Paris (twice). This reflects the restrictions our health has recently imposed on us, as within the previous decade, the 2000s, our anniversary trips together included Israel, Rhodes, and Sicily, together with non-anniversary trips such as to Lanzarote during midwinter of 2006. 

And not to rule out our overnight train trip to Inverness from London Euston during the Summer of 2005, a trip deemed very necessarily after what we've been through, and which included hiring two bicycles, one for each of us, to ride the 18-mile 29 km of the northwest coast of Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle, located midway along the Loch. After spending a couple of hours at the lakeside ruin, we then cycled back to Inverness, making a total trip of 36 miles done in a day. Although to my standard, this is quite a moderate distance (I was able to cover up to a hundred miles 162 km in a day on a lightweight bicycle.) For Alex, this was quite an achievement, even surprising the cycle shop owners from where we hired the bikes, who believed that such a trip couldn't be covered in just a day. 

Urquhart Castle, Scotland.

This is a reflection of my beloved's health during those early years of our marriage. Also, she was able to out-run me easily, her lithe physique enabled her to perform fast sprints whenever necessary. 

It goes to show that the 2010s was a decade of massive change and a time for my faith in God to pass through the fire of testing. During the Summer of 2013, we packed our rucksacks for a camping trip to the Dorset resort of Swanage, the gateway town for the Jurassic Coastline with its coastal hiking trail. Alex loved camping and the Great Outdoors. I preferred hosteling, however, the very thought of sleeping in a shared dormitory with other females was anathema to her! So we camped at a site just outside the resort, after a sailing trip from Bournemouth Pier, where the view of Old Harry Rocks, the Foreland and the chalk cliffs of Ballard Down, all viewed from the sea, resulting in an unforgettable experience.

After several nights spent under canvas, the day we were to return home, the weather deteriorated, with gales and rainfall compelling us not to sail back to Bournemouth but instead to take the bus. It was a bad decision. The shaking of the vehicle over rough ground had destabilised her spine, causing a severe pain which immobilised her. She literally struggled to board the train at Bournemouth, and once back home, it took just two more days for her to lay on the floor completely immobilised, a paralysis which rendered both her legs immovable, although not her arms. We called our GP to come on a home visit. At first, he refused. So I had to persuade him over the phone to come and see for himself. Eventually, he agreed to come over. He took just one look at her lying there on the lounge floor and immediately called for the ambulance. With a GP's consultancy, she was admitted to Royal Berks Hospital in Reading, a twenty-minute train journey away from home. There she would stay as an inpatient for up to four months leading to December 2013.

I visited her every single day, including the two weeks she was at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. It was here, by her bedside, where we spent our 14th Wedding Anniversary while she lay semi-conscious. It was devastating. We were meant to have celebrated our 14th in Crete, where several months earlier I had booked and paid the full price - airfare and hotel - to spend a week there. To cancel, then to imagine some other couple taking our place on a cheap, last-minute deal was very unsettling.

She made a recovery to a certain extent but never enough to regain her full mobility. After discharge, it was the wheelchair whenever she was out of doors. The wheelchair was not supplied by the NHS, rather, I bought it myself for her. Later, for her to enjoy greater independence, I bought her a mobility scooter and a shed to house it in. Paul, a good friend of mine in the church, and I took a full day to erect it.

Ballard Down chalk cliff and Old Harry, taken 2017.

However, just a following year, in the Summer of 2014, I began to find breathing at night difficult along with a sense of fluid in my lungs. Alex persuaded me to visit our GP, who immediately sent for my chest to be X-rayed. It came back with a result. My heart was enlarged and not pumping properly. Therefore followed trips to a couple of hospitals until I was diagnosed with a regurgitating aortic valve, and therefore in need of a major heart operation. And so in February 2015, I was admitted to Harefield Hospital in Uxbridge for open-heart surgery. After this and following further tests, I was put on Warfarin for life along with other drugs. Visits for post-surgery hospital check-ups every few months has become a regular schedule right up to the present.

Unfortunately, the 2010s did not bring full harmony with my relationship with Ascot Life Church, my spiritual home. Among the congregation, there is just one man in particular who has a thorough dislike for me, simply for my love of hugging other people in the church, mostly men. Shortly after discharge from Harefield Hospital, a dispute with an Elder, in connection with this man, during Spring of 2015 opened the door for a sabbatical, that is, to take three months off from church commitment to visit twelve other churches, a different one for each Sunday.

But after my return to Ascot, I couldn't help feel the poison in the air whenever this man is present with us. This has been ongoing until very recently when he suddenly stopped attending. At least for now. But every week, right up to the present, I always expect him to turn up unannounced, and I look around with dreadful anticipation.

This man's perception of God is of a truculent Deity who is usually dissatisfied with how some Christians relate to such a fickle-minded divinity. Not surprising at all, come to think of it, that this fellow sees the truth of imputed righteousness of Christ credited to the believer's soul, which leads to eternal security - to be heretical, a dangerous heresy. He also has very low self-esteem and carries an unhealthy preference for graduates, especially those who are married and hold down a professional career. Therefore I wasn't at all surprised for him to turn up to hear a preach delivered by one married graduate at an evening service during the early Summer of 2018.

His discourse was about the first chapter of Genesis which he believes to be on the same authoritative level as the Enuma Elish, an ancient Babylonian document about how the Creation of the heavens and the earth, with all its life, was from a dispute among warring gods. This reminded me of another ancient document, the Gilgamesh Epic, which most secularists place as the true source of the tale of Noah's Flood, above the authority of Genesis. Afterwards, I asked him directly whether he believes the Genesis record is history. He denied it, insisting that Science holds the reins of truth instead, hence questioning the reliability of the Bible to a congregation of listeners.

Yet despite these setbacks, I always had a passionate love for Ascot Life Church, my spiritual home. But to seek relief from the presence of this aforementioned man, God has allowed a beautiful friendship to develop between Dr Andrew Milnthorpe and myself. It actually took off in the Autumn of 2016, when I invited him to attend a conference in Central London which was held by Creation Ministries International. This two-day conference, which involved a night stayed at the Premier Inn Hotel near Waterloo Station, has opened the door for a relationship with someone with an IQ much higher than the foe at Ascot, despite the latter's adoration for the well-educated.

Within the last two years, Andrew has invited me to Encounter, a midweek lunchtime meeting held at the Kerith Centre, with, of course, a self-serve buffet included. Held only during the school term, I only went to it whenever Andrew was allowed the day off, or even the afternoon off, from work, which tends to be sporadic, hence, an invitation to come along can come at very short notice. A development from there is the swim and sauna immediately after the closing of the meeting, as well as day trips to London to visit a museum.

Another reason why 2019 was remarkable. This year was the diagnosis of Alex having breast cancer. Discovered by a Consultant at Frimley Park Hospital back in April 2019, it didn't take long for her to have her affected breast removed, followed by a course of chemotherapy, which was the cause of her hair loss. With this, I'm very, very grateful for the NHS! This after realising what my friend Paul had said to me, that had we lived a century earlier, there would have been nothing the physicians could do. Instead, I would have watched my beloved suffer in pain as her cancer worsened and to die a premature death. I went home that day almost in tears, and grateful to God for allowing us to live in the present when scientific expertise had literally saved my wife's life.

2019 consisted of trips, back and forth, back and forth, to Frimley Park Hospital. This includes the three days she stayed in after her operation. But this also includes the eleven days she had to remain, a few weeks later, after an ambulance pick up from our home to the A&E department. This was due to the discovery of her low white cell count due to her chemotherapy, and the development of feverishness, which if left untreated, could have led to sepsis.

Oh, the days of loneliness as I spent the nights and mornings in an otherwise empty house, save for the goldfish. But the level of comfort gotten from the aquatic organism was practically zero. I wanted my beloved wife to be with me. Back and forth to Frimley Park Hospital by several means. One was by taxi, another by train, other times I actually cycled the 8.5 miles 13.8 km from my house to the hospital and back. But at other times, I can only thank those at our church who was willing to give us a lift, as well as the regular three-week journeys in my father-in-law's car.

Dr Andrew Milnthorpe, a good friend from 2016 - present.

The 2010s decade has changed my life in many ways, from the carefree, travel-loving husband of the late 2000s decade to the responsible carer of the present. This has given Alex tons of loving assurance, especially after the loss of her hair, and my trust in God's faithfulness has grown and matured. And also learning never to take anything for granted but to realise that each day we spend together is a strong, robust marriage is in itself a wonderful gift from God.


  1. What came to mind Frank as I read your post was 'All things work together for good ' and 'His thoughts are for our welfare and not to harm us'. I have only recently noticed that one of the speakers on my computer has the word 'trust' written on it, and I have come to through many tests in my life in the Lord, and realise that trials actually strengthen me. God bless you and Alex

  2. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for this excellent and well-written post sharing your many trials and blessings. Were it not for the valleys, we could not experience the joy of the mountaintop. He is the Lily of the valley who draws us closer to Himself when we are suffering, and strengthens our faith in and dependence on Him. One day, I believe soon, He will call us out to meet with Him in the air and wipe every tear from our eyes, and we shall forever be with Him in a land of no sorrow, pain, illness, death or sin. Praise God!
    Many blessings to you and Alex in 2020 and until He comes again,