We were so overwhelmed by people being concerned for our safe return from holiday this March that we decided we ought to let you know the story. It isn’t a short one, and I have omitted many twists and turns.
We booked the holiday of a lifetime nearly 2 years ago – a 34-day cruise on the South Pacific Ocean from New Zealand to San Diego. Imagine all those beautiful islands you have seen in the brochures – blue seas, white sands, coral and colourful fish. Well, those images are still in my imagination!
It all started in New Zealand on March 1st when we joined the Holland America Maasdam cruise ship for the South Pacific crossing voyage including ports Waitangi; Fiji (Suva, Savusavu, Dravuni); Tonga (Nuku, Vava u); Cross International dateline; Cook Island Rarotonga; French Polynesia (Moorea, Papeete, Maroe Bay, Bora Bora); Crossing the Equator; Kiritimati Christmas Island; Hawaii (Lahaina, Hilo, Kona, Honolulu, Nawiliwili) and ending in San Diego on the 3rd April where we planned to stay a few days and then fly home.
We said goodbye to a warm and sunny Auckland. Next morning, we arrived at Waitangi, Bay of islands where we had a great day sightseeing. The next two days were at sea before we reached Fiji. The Fijians were lovely people, and very welcoming, and Dravuni gave us an insight into what we were to expect – Then along came Coronavirus. The Captain announced that the King of Tonga had closed the ports to all cruise ships, the first of many changes to come. So, 4 days later, bypassing Tonga in the distance, we arrived one day early at Cook Island Rarotonga. Fortunately the swell was just about suitable for us to tender to the island, as there were doubts at one point. Rarotonga was lovely and our first point of call was to go and buy WiFi!!!! We had been out of contact for 4 days and no-one knew where we were. Family and friends were ringing each other to find out any information on our whereabouts.
We got back on board to be told that all ports were closing and we weren’t allowed to go into any of the Polynesian Islands. This was a bit of a problem as we had many Polynesians on board, others were leaving the cruise at Papeete to fly back to New Zealand or Australia; entertainers and marine biologists were changing over, as were crew members, as well as taking on more stock and fuel. So, off we set, not knowing where we were heading for next – seems the Captain didn’t either. You can imagine our surprise the next morning when we looked out of the window and there was Cook Island again! The Captain, who was on his final sailing after 40 years, said he had never had to turn a ship around before. He had been sailing round the island that night, and we were told that anyone who was due to disembark at Papeete could disembark at Cook Island, but they had to have a flight organised otherwise they could not leave. They had two days to do it in, because that night we sailed around the island again to arrive back again the next morning! Apparently, the port had closed down just as we had left 2 days before, so no-one was allowed off unless they had a flight home. If you couldn’t get a flight then you were going to stay on until Hawaii, 6 days away.
So onward to Hawaii, where we were told we could stay 2 nights in Hilo, 2 nights in Honolulu and 2 nights in Lahaina – so that would be fine as we had trips booked on those islands- the most important of which was Martin’s life-long dream to go to Pearl Harbour.
Wind the clocks forward (well we did cross the International Dateline, and the Equator) and we discovered we couldn’t actually go to those islands after all, but we had to head for Hilo where we must disembark and fly home. As luck would have it, we couldn’t manage to book a flight, as the next day we discovered the protesters were out in Hilo and they didn’t want us in. So, off we head to Honolulu, where we were assured we would disembark, the ship would refuel and restock for the crew. So, flights were definitely booked this time. Immigration was all set up and we were given our instructions. Nothing happened, and we waited, and waited. By now we were used to the Captain coming over the ship’s system with that little sigh that meant all was not well. The Governor of Honolulu did not want us in, even though we would get on a bus and get taken straight to the airport. Negotiations went on, and it was even escalated to the White House, but the Hawaiians did not want us off the ship onto their island. There were 6 Hawaiians on board and they were sneaked off without being seen. Well, there were 450 Americans, and they couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to disembark as they were on home territory.
So, on we sailed for another 6 days to San Diego, with assurances we would be allowed to disembark (as long as we had flights). We were safe, no viruses, hadn’t been on land for 17 days, had food, drink, a social life and toilet rolls!!! We could go to the gym, the spa, the library, the cinema, the theatre, and even the hairdresser! Why would we want to get off and into the big wide world out there? It was at this point that our family back home were getting very anxious. The USA had closed its borders, Canada had closed its borders, Europe was closing down. How were we going to get back home, where were we going to end up, would we have to quarantine in USA? So many stories going around. Our daughters lobbied the foreign office, the British Consulate in San Diego and the government, including local MPs, but we were told we were low on their priority list. The Canadians (250 of them) the Dutch and other Europeans had letters from their governments to reassure them that they knew where they were. The Canadian government even arranged for a flight to change its schedule so all the Canadians could get home. We booked a flight for the Saturday, (we were 8 days early so lost our home flight as well), it was cancelled and rescheduled to the Sunday. It was cancelled and rescheduled to a later flight. Finally, we got a flight from San Diego to JFK (not ideal but no choice) and then on to Heathrow (no flights to Manchester). There were 11 of us on the plane to JFK! But the flight from JFK was an amalgamation of 3 cancelled flights, so was pretty full, and was in fact the last Virgin flight out of JFK to Heathrow. Fortunately, Claire, our daughter, had been able to organise a hire car for us to get home – more added stress, I am sure!
So, we arrived into this strange world of ‘Lockdown’, and as a result of transiting through New York we had to self-isolate for 14 days on our return.
It was only when we got home that we understood people’s concern. Time was running out for safe exit from USA, flights were terminating, the virus was spreading fast. It was so nice to be welcomed home by everyone we spoke to, at a distance, or on the phone. Our family (including my Mum) have told us they won’t let us out of the country again!!!
Now, about that holiday to New Zealand we were talking about doing in 2 years’ time, will they let us go, or shall we just sneak out without telling them?
We would like to start this month’s article by saying a big thank you to our community and residents for doing their part and staying at home during the current lockdown measures. As your local community team we have been on foot patrol in the villages and keeping a visible presence to help and guide people around these unprecedented times. We have had a new member of the team join us, PC Stuart Hatton who has taken the role of beat manager within Dane Valley. PC Hatton has been a response officer for many years responding to emergency calls, and is now looking to use his knowledge and experience to tackle long term problems within our community.
We have had a lot of resident’s contact us concerned about potential breaches of the current guidelines set by the Government. We’re seeking to resolve situations where people appear to be or are contravening the government advice on physical social distancing and the stay at home measures without resorting to enforcement and issuing fines. Therefore we are asking that you please only tell us about something if you feel there is a significant issue or serious breach of the restrictions. We are also asking that you report this through our new online form on the Cheshire Police website, this is to help reduce the demand on calls that we are receiving in our Force Contact Centre.
As we cannot hold our weekly community meetings like usual, we are also holding an online surgery on the Sandbach Police Twitter and Facebook social media pages. This is held once a week and the dates are published on these accounts in advance. You can then speak to one of our officers and ask any questions you may have.
If you are also interested in more of our activity and advice during this time then please follow us on social media where we are able to speak directly to you as our community about incidents and crimes we are finding in the area. Your local officers social media pages are ‘Dane Valley Police’ for Facebook and ‘@DaneValleyPol’ for our Twitter account. You can also contact us via Crewe.LPU@Cheshire.pnn.police.uk
Once again, to each and every one of you that is helping us and your community to stay safe, thank you.
The Focus Group Saturday, May 16th outing to the People’s History Museum, the Slug and Lettuce and the Science Museum in Manchester has been deferred owing to the temporary closure of all three venues. I have been in touch with the People’s History Museum and plan to reschedule our trip for Saturday, 15th May 2021, with all other details remaining the same as in the Focus 2019/2020 programme, including the 09:00 train departure from Holmes Chapel Station.
The cancelled Friday, April 3rd ‘Blood Bikes, Manchester’ session and the Friday, 12th June presentation on ‘Amazing Morocco’ by Anne Vaughan in the Methodist church hall will be rescheduled during the autumn.
Looking forward to programme planning remotely for the 2020/2021 session and seeing you all again, as soon as possible, face-to-face.
Every blessing to you all in these strange and unprecedented times.
Well, what a strange year! Our AGM meeting usually is in March to coincide with the financial year, but this year both Dorothy and I were going to be away for that meeting so we planned it for April. Little did we know that April wasn’t going to happen either. So I thought the best plan would be to put the report in the magazine. At this time the magazine is going to be online, which means some people will still miss it, but please do your best to share it with others who aren’t on the Internet.
So 2019 began with the usual Epiphany party, this time led by our MU leaders as we were inter-regnum, using a service from the Iona community. It was an opportunity for people to get together and share food (always a good idea) and find out who their new Prayer Partner is for the year.
In June we held our joint annual Strawberry Supper as usual, and this was a huge success with quizzes, scones, cream, strawberries and lots of cake.
In July the evening group went to the New Victoria theatre in Newcastle to see ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart’. None of us really knew what to expect, and at the interval we all looked at each other (over a cup of tea and a biscuit) and said “What was all that about?!” The second half was less confusing, and I have to say that the actors were very talented, all taking many parts as well as singing and playing instruments. It was a good fun evening out with friends. Perhaps a buffet next time???
The afternoon group experienced a successful afternoon tea in the Church Hall provided by Cobbles Tea Room, with tea-sets being supplied by The Lovely Little Vintage. We had a good turnout of members, and very little food was left over!
The September meetings were both in-house discussions, but I think these were the most successful. The evening group discussed ‘Friendships’, while the afternoon group, by request from Christine Jones, discussed ‘Loneliness’. She had invited Fiona Bruce MP along to the meeting, and we discovered how fortunate we are as a village to have so many opportunities for people to meet. Fiona gave us a talk and an update on how the Government is dealing with these issues.
October brought an open evening with Rev George Lane, chaplain at Manchester Airport, who told some interesting stories about his experiences of working at the airport. The wonderful ‘Making Music with Handbells’ with Susan Hawkes and the Middlewich handbell ringers came for the afternoon meeting. Some of us had a go and realised it wasn’t as easy as it looked!
November’s meetings were entitled ‘Christmas memories’, but we were very lucky to have been able to get the Hearing Dogs volunteers to come in with their training dogs. They visited us for the afternoon meeting and the evening meeting and were very informative.
In December the evening group returned to the George and Dragon for a meal and the afternoon group joined in Christmas carols and readings, with Christine Jones playing the piano for us. This was concluded by the sharing out of mince pies and Prayer Partner presents.
January is the time when we empty our Literacy boxes, and the money raised is sent to Chester for the Literacy Fund abroad. We raised £80.74 this year.
In April and November we have started holding a cake stall at coffee time after the Morning service in order to raise money for the Away From It All holidays. These are caravan holidays which MU provides for families who can’t afford them. These raised £305.30 this year, so we will try them again next year.
We would like to thank you all for your help over the past year in making our MU group a very successful and enjoyable one. Every little bit helps – and as you know we are a Committee-run group who needs a lot of support from you all in whichever way you can, including bringing your friends along. However we are now down to 6 committee members, so if any of you feel you could contribute to our meetings, which we only hold 3 times a year, please let us know. We do need some new ideas!
We discuss the preparation of the Easter Cross which we do each year, as well as decorating it on Easter Day. The Strawberry Supper arrangements are organised at another meeting, and the year’s calendar is planned at the other meeting.
Our Committee members are Dorothy Wood (Treasurer), Carole Elliott (Secretary), Caroline Burd, Christine Land, Ann Stafford and Jane Thomson. We have extra help for our Prayer Circle from Jean Paton, who is happy to help us ring round members when we know people are ill or need our prayers. We don’t have any indoor members, but we do have a list of people who are no longer able to attend our meetings and still need our thoughts and prayers.
The Prayerbook of the Church of England used to have these words in the Litany:
“ From plague, pestilence and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.”
The recent revisions of the prayerbook resulted in the litany being altered to this:
“From famine and disaster, from violence, murder and dying unprepared, Good Lord, deliver us.”
Spot the difference? Why the changes, I wonder? Why, in particular, did we remove the mention of plague and pestilence in our set prayers? After all, that is the prayer I want to pray over and over at this present time: From plague and pestilence, Good Lord, deliver us.
Yes, I admit the words sound a little archaic. Plague and pestilence sound like they belong in the Middle Ages. But that is perhaps part of our present problem. Maybe we have been in some sort of privileged denial of the continuing threat of plague and pestilence. We have forgotten how threatening these things are. And we have become uneasy with these words which were rightly associated with seasons of dread. Our prayers have become more sanitised than our world.
Not everyone in this world has forgotten the need for this prayer. Brothers and sisters in The Congo and West Africa, who have endured recent outbreaks of Ebola will have been glad to keep the prayer in. In January the East Asian nations were ready with their face masks and their testing regimes because they had recent memory of SARS. Serious and deadly infectious diseases are a normal thing in our world. But maybe for a few decades we have been cushioned from what is normal. And it has disappeared from our prayerbook.
Another reason why 20th Century liturgical revisers may have written out plague and pestilence is that they might have been infected by a modernist overconfidence in our human capacity. Scientists and doctors are expected to come up with the answers. They often do. But wiser scientists and doctors are quick to acknowledge how limited is their knowledge. Humanism has duped us. We have tended to put our faith in Good doctor, deliver us and have foolishly ditched the prayer Good Lord, deliver us.
It is so many of our doctors and nurses who have been on the frontline of caring for people with this deadly disease, and in the most vulnerable position of catching it themselves. Their courage is rightly lauded as well as their faithfulness to their noble calling. But even as they hear our noisy appreciation, they may also help us appreciate our unrealistic expectation that they have the panacea for all ills. In the end the Lord is our deliverer. Better that we call on the Good Lord to deliver us.
It is the Lord who gives. And the Lord takes away as well, but He delights to give. And so many people in our world bless His name. Our 21st Century existence can seem so sophisticated and we depend on so many human supply chains. It is easy to overlook our dependence on God. Sometimes it takes something like our present crisis to humble humanity and remind us all that we depend on our Maker, more than we know.
Political leaders may even be slightly enjoying the crisis as it gives them more executive power, but this is not what they’re thinking underneath, which is ‘What do we do?’ ‘Is there any way out?’ ‘We’re all in the dark’. It is the time to sing ‘Help of the helpless, O abide with me,’ as our leaders do sing every November. And it’s such a valuable lesson, which goes alongside the other valuable lessons we are learning in these times of trouble.
Our lives are a fragile gift from a faithful God, who holds us in His everlasting arms.
With my prayerful good wishes to you and everyone. From plague and pestilence, Good Lord deliver us.