S T   C U T H B E R T ’ S  H O U S E Hermitage of the Diocese of Nottingham               

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Christmas 2006

It is now the third week of Advent:  there is no fourth week this year, so I guess this newsletter will hit you at the same time as the post-Christmas blues.  Think of it as a sort of alternative to the alka seltzer.

2006 has been a bit of a YEAR one way or other.  

January saw me indulging in a new enthusiasm - greenhouse gardening.  I dodged the November gales of the previous year, trying to manhandle this giant meccano set into position - clearly the instructions were not designed for hermits, requiring at one point that I hold the two end panels upright (8 feet apart) whilst attaching the intervening side wall!  A growing assemblage of ladders (various), kitchen furniture & broomsticks must have been a constant source of query & amusement to the neighbours.  Fortunately by dustbin day everything was in place - fortunate because the whole troope of refuse collectors took it upon themselves  to quit the cab of the dustcart to come & inspect my handiwork.  “Thumbs up” put me on a high for the rest of the day!  

March 1st was a very significant day for me - apart from being Ash Wednesday, which already lent it a certain sombre purpose, it was also the day I presented myself to Bishop Malcolm McMahon in Nottingham, in the hope of persuading him to accept me for solemn profession later on in the year.  Many of you already know the end of the story, but I, at the time, did not.  So incredibly nervous & after a preamble of small talk that seemed to take an eternity, I finally blurted out the question …                 “I don’t see why not” might not seem to be the most soul-affirming response in the directory, but it was all I wanted to hear - a quick fixing of dates & I was out of Bishop’s House quick as you can – before he could begin to think of the potential pitfalls & change his mind!  

In June I was thrilled for St Cuthberts House (Fine Calligraphy & Stationery from the hermitage) to be accepted onto the GROW scheme - a Lincolnshire/EEC funded initiative for the creative arts industry.  Amongst other things, the scheme offers subsidised support towards marketing the business, & the services of a business advisor for the year.  I was fortunate in being allocated an advisor who was immediately excited by the potential of SCH & was willing to explore the philosophies & principles underlying hermitage as the basis for developing a business model which would be sympathetic to my vocation  -  though he has had his work cut out trying to turn me into a hard-nosed (well, realistic at least) business woman; getting there slowly.  Winning a competitive bid for further funding towards equipment etc. was an added bonus - not least for the vote of confidence it embodied, from a panel comprising representatives from both the business community & the Arts Council.  

In September I headed back to old student haunts up in the North East.  St Cuthbert was a familiar from my days in Newcastle, & so for my “retreat before profession” (inscribed in canon rubrics someplace), I decided to walk St Cuthberts Way - not a path he ever actually walked, but a sort of theme park tour through the country he was most familiar with between Melrose (Scotland) & Lindesfarne (Northumbria).  I had anticipated an element of spiritual benefit from the journey, not least from the ensuing sore feet - but was surprised by how much I simply enjoyed it. Seriously beautiful scenery with plenty of time to stand back & admire (I took 6 days instead of the proscribed 4), as well as lots of interesting people to meet at the B&Bs where I bedded down each night.  An invisible sherpa service carried my bags between stops, so days were spent lightly, tramping, resting, stopping & staring.  Highly to be recommended.   So it was with mixed feelings that I finally made my way across the sands to Holy Island at the end of the trip.  The island had undergone something of a make-over since the moody desolation of my student days, but the new gentrification sort of suited the place in a perverse, beguiling sort of way, & certainly made it all a lot more comfortable!

Back in North Owersby, the council managed to surprise us all by turning up in late October to lay a new footpath alongside the terrace of council houses of which St Cuthberts is the end house.  We already had a perfectly serviceable path on the other side of the road, but apparently new regulations required a kerb-height-standard of at least 6 inches, & as the height of the old one opposite was only 4 inches, putting in a new one on this side was the cheaper alternative.  Now don’t get me wrong: it is a very nice footpath - it means I can check with my neighbours now when the water/electric goes off (regularly) without getting muddy feet or crossing over the road, and it gives me somewhere level to park my bin on collection days:  as they have very thoughtfully put in some handy drop-kerb points, it is also great for wheeling up my barrows of manure from the local farm; but I expect I shall not really begin to appreciate its full worth until I get my new council tax bill next April.

18th November, the day of my solemn profession, finally dawned.  After weeks spent studying the internet weather charts to find out which bore best resemblance to reality (CNN – American TV)  I was mightily heartened to see, bang in the middle of two weeks of  and even worse, a single bright glimmer of    for Saturday 18th November.  The day itself more than lived up to its promise - one of those perfect, calm days of thin autumnal sunshine - ideal to keep the chill on wine not admitted refrigerator space, and bright enough to lend a rosy glow to those all important post-ceremonial photos.  Speaking for myself, & despite the parish shenanigans going on all around (tell me about it!), it was a wonderful day.  I know that the liturgy & music made a deep impression on many people & I am very happy that so many of you came along to celebrate with me.  If you haven’t seen it already, there is a very handy newspaper article up on my website with a few photos - sort of “before” & “after” shots.  

Particular thanks to anybody who contributed towards the Medical Foundation for the victims of torture: - between us we collected over £400 on the day.  Thank you.

Now, lovely as all that was, it is with a wonder-full relief that I awake each morning to an empty house & an empty diary.  In theory there shouldn’t be any difference between “before” & “after” – I am doing exactly the same stuff, just as badly as I was before … but it is different in a nonsensical, freeing sort of way - the vast horizons of being in a place.   A friend of mine once said that the state of being married grows on you - at first it is all a bit awkward & the “meshing” feels a little deliberate, purposeful even, then one day you wake up & discover that marriage has taken over: it is just what you are.    I guess I am a hermit.

Every best wish & prayer for you all during 2007,

Rachel HDN