I happen to have several friends spread throughout the UK and I went to visit all of them!
We only got a day or two together in every instance, but we sure made them count.
Portia and I were mission companions in London years ago. I stopped by Portia’s place in Coppull for a couple nights on my way up to Edinburgh. Coppull is a charming little village just outside Chorley in Lancastershire, about hour or so away from Manchester. Portia lives in the local vicarage with her husband and seven children. Beautiful, intelligent, active little people. We spent a wild and crazy afternoon making balloon animals – it was the first time for all of us! Aren’t they wonderfully imaginative creations?
The last time I saw Portia was during quick overnight trip to Merthr Tydville in Wales ten years ago. This time, though, we finally were able to have a proper visit! We both have close family members with a very difficult condition. It is a rare and precious thing to find someone who can understand what those particular struggles are, and what it is to be so close to someone who deals with them. I found great comfort in being able to share that experience with Portia.
We visited the Preston Temple of our church in the evening – I had had the chance to tour this beautiful temple during its open house when I was a missionary – they bused missionaries in from all over England for the public tour of the new temple. After spending a little time inside, a lovely lady from Glouster showed me around again! It was just as beautiful as I’d remembered. Portia and I grabbed some curry on our way back – oh yes, the curry. It was extraordinary. When you’re in England, you must needs try the curry.
Emily and I hadn’t seen each other in over 10 years – we were roommates in college at Florida State University. It was just like old times, with the addition of her husband and four kids! Her husband works for the US Air Force and is based in England – they’ve been in the city Ely, close to Cambridge, for about two years now. We had a lovely dinner my first night, but I was so tired from the adventure in Edinburgh that I was in bed and passed out before 9PM. On a Friday night!
The next day I woke up to whispers in my room. I pretended to be asleep for a while just to see what would happen, and then I discovered this little person crouched at the foot of the bed whispering at me, “Wake up! Wake up!”
Behold, my little bedroom imp!
After I did a batch of laundry – these things are important, you know, even if terribly boring – Emily, Blythe, and I headed over to the market in Ely’s City Centre so I could go busking. I found a spot along one of the pedestrian streets, but traffic was kind of slow, so I tried my hand at balloon animals. Oh man, are those things popular with the kids. Afterwards we traipsed by the Cathedral and went back to Emily’s place.
It’s kind of cool, the bond Emily and I have – we were close as roommates, and we just kind of picked up right where we left off – with her kids and husband in the mix, of course. Her daughter Blythe commented that I felt like her Aunt. I would have to agree – there is a beautiful, easy familiarity there.
Sunday I spent mostly in Cambridge – the first city where I was stationed as a missionary. I recognized only a couple of people at church, but I was able to reconnect with them and find out where some of my old friends had gone.
Only one person I taught as a missionary in England joined our church, Joan Billingsly. Her health wasn’t good at the time, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that she passed away some time ago. Dear Joan. Here’s a picture of Joan on her baptism day, a few weeks after I’d been transferred down to London:
After church, Emily dropped me off at Cambridge city centre so I could go busking. Yeah. I definitely procrastinated on that one. Every time I’ve gone to go busking, it takes me a while to build up the courage to start. And there have been a couple times I’ve folded! But I’m always glad when I jump in and do it anyway. I wanted to sing on the street along the colleges facing city centre, but the bells in a nearby church kept pealing. Turns out the new Archdeacon of Cambridge was to be collated in the same church at the top of the hour. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? I had wanted to attend an Anglican service while in England, anyway. It was a lovely service. I worked at an Episcopal cathedral in Phoenix for a couple years and have always had a great love of the Anglican hymns and their uniquely English harmonic language. After the service they served cake – I had a gorgeous homemade piece of chocolate cake – which gave me the courage to go singing! I’m seeing a trend here with this “chocolate courage” . . .
I decided upon a spot in the shadow of the famous Kings College Chapel, and had a wonderful time. People said they could hear me from several hundred yards away – not bad! One of the ladies I’d sat next to in the service came by and dropped in some coins, with a huge smile on her face. Kids working at the shops across the street came to the door to listen. I just love seeing smiles on peoples’ faces, knowing they are enjoying what I am sharing. Knowing it’s doing them some good. A mature gentleman stayed through the entire session, and approached me afterwards. He accompanied me on a walk down “the Backs” – a pathway along the River Cam, past the older college campuses. Here are a few shots:
Later that evening, Emily and I sat down with my calendar and worked through the itinerary for the rest of my trip. It has felt a little daunting, the logistics of this whole journey, and I really appreciated her company and input.
The next day I said goodbye and hopped on a train to see Zoe, my second mission companion in Cambridge.
Zoe and her energetic posse met me at the train station in Swansea. We hit up a chicken joint for dinner and started to catch up. In this cheeky building:
I hadn’t seen Zoe in about a decade – she’s had two more kids, Robert and Lily – very sweet, fun, energetic youngsters. 10 years ago Zoe was running a convenience store in a tiny village in Wales, living above in a small apartment with her husband and little girl. Now she and her husband own a petrol (gas) station and shop, and live next door in a rather spacious home, complete with Jacuzzi tub (yes, I did get to enjoy it!) With a garden, and close to the beach. Nice work, Zoe and Robin!
We had only one full day together – Zoe got help to cover her shifts at the station, and we took off for a whirlwind tour of famous sites in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.
First stop was St. David’s Cathedral, a very important site in British Christendom. A pilgrimage to St. David’s used to equal to one pilgrimage to Rome. St. David’s is surrounded by the smallest city in the UK. If a cathedral rests in the middle of a community, whatever the size, it is officially a city. Hence the tiny city of St. David’s. We took a quick tour of the 12th-Century cathedral – the ceiling was especially nicely painted, but we couldn’t take pictures of the inside. So, here are a few of the outside, along with ruins of the monastery St. David founded in the 6th Century, and surrounding area:
Next stop was Pembroke Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Henry VII, where he spent a portion of his childhood. If you’ve seen The White Queen, a fantastic miniseries about the War of the Roses, you would be familiar with his story and this castle. It started out as a small wooden fort, gradually replaced by stone, presided over by a succession of Earls, and held out as an English stronghold in Wales for several centuries, only to fall to the ruthless Oliver Cromwell. Now it’s a public treasure and museum:
We got back to Zoe’s and her kids wanted to hit the beach. And, well, so did I! I love beaches. Especially running on them. Whilst the lamb was in the oven, we headed over to Aberporth Beach, nestled in a delightful little cove. Lily insisted Zoe make her a “paddling pool” (aka “wading pool”), Robert ran off and joined a friend who was surfing with her grandfather. I took a run down the shoreline for a bit,
and then the four of us went hunting for shellfish among the rock pool. Cockles and Mussels! And tiny little fish. I couldn’t help singing the song inside my head the whole time. It was perfect.
After the beach, we gathered for an incredible traditional English meal of roast lamb, mint gravy, mint jelly, root vegetables, Yorkshire puddings, and more. Robin and Zoe make a great team in business, as parents, as partners, as chefs. This meal was no exception. It was amazing, I tell you! I’m still thinking about it! Zoe’s older daughter, Emily, made a cake from scratch, a white-butter concoction that this chocolate lover would kill for, it was so good. Afterwards, the kids and I made balloon animals. Robin made me sing for my supper and play the ukulele, which I, of course, was happy to oblige him.
They sent me off the next day with a bag full of food and goodies from the store. I’m sad it was such a quick trip, but we sure did pack in a lot of good stuff, and some really happy memories.
I made my last stop in the UK at Portsmouth/Southsea to visit my friend Naomi, whom I met at a business conference in 2010 just outside London. Naomi is a terrific marketer with a good head for business, and a huge heart. We spent the first evening catching up over dinner. The next day I took a run along the Portsmouth shoreline – a rather rocky beach – and spent the day working on the itinerary for the remainder of my trip. Naomi had to drag me out of the apartment at one point – I was literally going mad with logistics – so we could hit up a local Tesco’s for food my trip to Paris the next day. Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures together, but Naomi’s footprint is most certainly in the welcome video now at the homepage of this website, which she filmed and edited. I can’t thank her enough for that generous gift, and for her generous, listening ear that night.
Zoe, Portia, and Emily are wonderful mothers, and they inspire me with their goodness, faith, love, and loyalty. Naomi is an example to me of great courage, faith and perseverance. I am blessed to know such women as these.