The hallowed cuppa

The hallowed cuppa

In our house, there are two types of coffee: ‘Nice’, and ‘Crap’. It’s become a standing joke – my husband prefers one, and I prefer the other. Thankfully we both agree on ‘nice’ tea, so divorce isn’t on the cards.

After a few weeks spent on placement, I recently reflected on hospitality expressed through the provision of a good cuppa. The parish was experiencing long term tension, going back so far that I doubt if anyone can remember why they became so upset in the first place. A small group of key figures is vying for supremacy over each other, fearing loss of control and struggling with the shame of appearing to be vulnerable. Most of the community has moved on and is blissfully unaware, but the ministry team is struggling with the toxic Few.

I reflected on a meeting of the Few and compared it with all the other events I’d observed and there was one common factor; coffee. Yes, I know it’s a church community and Christ should be the thread drawing them all together, but coffee won. Mostly strong, plunged in a cafetiere and served steaming, with fresh milk, placed on the table in mugs and prompting murmurs of satisfaction.

To win victory over death, Jesus sacrificed his body and blood for us all, crucified as one of the least. My mind began to combine images and I imagined Christ at the last supper, surrounded by disciples cradling mugs of Italian Roast and passing round a coffee and walnut sponge cake. If Jesus is central to our lives, he should also be central to the table, inhabiting this space in the form of bread and wine on the table. How blasphemous is it to replace wine and bread with coffee and cake?

In the Old Testament, God feeds the Israelites with manna and quail. During his earthly ministry, Jesus shared countless meals, an event which was repeated following his resurrection. God provides our food and invites us to sit and eat with him as a shared act of fellowship. Facing someone across an empty table can be intimidating and adversarial (as the Few demonstrated all too well at their meetings), but a table filled with food and drink is exciting to the senses, welcoming and affirming. Are we missing a link between the drop in church attendance and the new ‘religion’ of café culture? Over coffee, we talk, chat, gossip and share the good, the bad and the ugly. We warm ourselves physically, seeking comfort. The reality is that much of society heals itself in Costa, not church.

But what of Holy Communion? The table at which Christ is host, breaking his body and shedding his blood for us? Inviting us all to sit and eat with him?

The placement church invited me to preach at a service where I also assisted at Holy Communion. I was startled (as was the priest) to find no fair white linen ready for use… no corporal, no purificator… only a single sheet of kitchen roll. The inside of the chalice was smeared with dried wine from the previous service.

Yet afterwards, hot coffee was enthusiastically shared in clean mugs, with a side order of biscuits and chat.

We – and I mean all of us, including the disgruntled Few – can only meet in body, mind, and spirit by truly sharing in the body and blood of Christ, not just at Holy Communion, but to recognise an echo of that meal when bread and wine is replaced with cake and coffee. Both, in different ways, are a gift of the heart and should be received accordingly. For many, church represents formality and this suggests that a casual meal outside the confines of a service may be as constructive, healing and affirming, as a Eucharist – neither one can fully replace the other.

We read in Psalm 23:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Café-faith dictates an expectation that the coffee cup should overflow, with a choice of latte, Americano, cappuccino, the table spread with pastries and toasted Panini.

At God’s table, and at the tables in our homes, we should explore what it means to love and be loved as equals, not only to heal conflict, but to prevent it. We worship a God who provides for us beyond measure; we honour our Lord by offering that abundant goodness to all.

That is why I happily make my husband his preferred ‘crap’ coffee, and he perks my ‘nice’ brew each day; desires met, preferences honoured, and with love, as God would have it.




A Christmas mystery.

A Christmas mystery.

I was on holiday in France and, as always, had my beloved camera to hand.


A morning market, glowing in low morning sunshine, held a thousand possible images that I wanted to capture, from glistening bowls of olives to bleached wooden shutters, racks of brilliantly-dyed scarves to chilled cabinets of cool white cheeses.



I’m not the sort of person to happily invade the privacy of another, but as I stood beneath a canopy a lady passed me with the most exquisitely beautiful child cradled on her back in a sling. Wide-eyed, with glinting hair, the child silently soaked up the world as the mother chatted intently with her friend. I couldn’t resist; I snapped several photos of the wider scene, including the mother and child. Somewhere in my mind a painting was being born.

Back in England, I uploaded my images and began to sift through them. At last I could stare at this gorgeous mother and child… I felt almost as if I had stolen a moment from them by taking the photograph, but my French is pitifully poor. There was no way I could have conveyed the complex message that I’d like to use their picture to turn into a painting of Mary carrying baby Jesus and turn it into a Christmas card.

Aside from the natural beauty of both mother and child, I loved the play of light and shadow in the jumble of hands and the expressive qualities of face and fingers. The rich, golden light intensifies the shadows from the right, but the child’s face and hair are illuminated by a bluer tinge from the left, too. Suddenly I understood why so many of the Old Masters spent their lives in the South of France!

I made many changes, partly to ensure that the lady was an inspiration and not recognisable. Some of the changes are more obvious, such as the background and introduction of a halo. Mary’s scarf (signifying her married status) and her blue clothing is a nod to tradition, whilst her clothing style remains contemporary. I wanted to capture her humanity and the reality of motherhood. After the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and events immediately following, there’s a huge gap until we encounter twelve-year-old Jesus teaching adults in a temple. During those intervening early years, Mary would have gone to the market, bought food, chatted with friends, discussed events and would have been a ‘normal’ mother. However, she was aware that her child was anything but ‘normal’. Her child was destined to be exceptional, although exactly how was not yet revealed. It was this aspect of her role as mother that I wanted to capture; the extraordinary ordinariness of her situation.

Jesus and Mary. Oil on linen board, 30x30cm. Copyright Sally Prendergast

But what was going on in the head of her child? What did Jesus think when Mary carried him to market? How did he see the world around him? In my own journey of faith, I’ve sometimes felt aware of Christ’s presence just behind me, just out of sight. I loved the idea of Mary’s child and God being so close to her, held tight in a sling on her back and yet outside her field of vision. Her friend is bare-headed and slightly unkempt, perhaps needy in some way, and Jesus’ concern shines on the friend indirectly, through Mary.

I’ve deliberately kept Mary’s expression ambiguous, and also the gender of the friend, in an attempt to allow the viewer to identify, empathise or engage with one of them more easily. I’ve also kept the child’s gender as neutral as possible, and I’ll explain why.

The Hebrew language does not enable gender neutral language and so, in the description of the creation, God is referred to in the masculine form. However the bible also tells that we are made in God’s image, male and female. One only has to Google ‘God as female’ or a similar phrase, to see that many people have difficulty in accepting God as solely male – or female. Or as an entity that, beyond our understanding, encompasses both. I was delighted when, on posting the child’s face alone on social media (without mentioning the narrative of the painting) some people referred to ‘him’ and some to ‘her’. Whilst Jesus was fully human and male, I wanted to reflect the mystery of his divine identity, subtly embracing feminine elements. God fills in the blanks in our lives; if we lack a father-figure, he will provide for us; if we lack a mother, he will fulfil that role.

If there is more to this painting, with its intentional ambiguity, then that is for you to find. Listen for the quiet voice of God.

The painting is available as a Christmas card. 50p from each pack of five goes to The Brain Tumour Charity and another 50p to St Nicholas Church, Great Kimble.

The original will be available once it’s dry – please contact me if you’re interested.

Somewhere over the rainbow…

Somewhere over the rainbow…

I always say that behind every stole I make is a story. Most of the stoles I create are for others, which is why I take time to get to know the person who will be wearing it. I want to know a bit about their story, events and experiences that have made them who they are.

This stole is a big chunk of my own story. I really hope that the story resonates with another soul, and that someone with a similar heart will take it on and wear it with pride.

The starting point was the cotton fabric, a small, rich, grass-green swirling pattern which almost vanishes from a distance. I love it! The fabric sat in a drawer for some time until I had an idea for a stole with a rainbow at the bottom – strips of fabric passing through the colour spectrum, embellished with goldwork and beading.

There are two symbolic choices here. Noah, complete with giraffes, elephants and a circling dove, or the LGBT etc. The former a comfortable story from childhood illustrated bibles, reassuring to us as adults and a convenient happy ending, an offer of hope for all. The latter, for many, is distinctly unsettling and I’m not about to begin a lengthy discussion here. Suffice to say that the greatest two commandments – to love God, and to love one another – instruct us to welcome everyone without prejudice. On a personal note, I am the proud mother of two transgender children, both adult, both extraordinary, both vulnerable yet remarkably resilient in their different ways. So this stole is, for me, a statement in support of those who are currently the target of society’s vitriolic debates.

In my mind, this stole would be seen by those who fear their ability to ‘come out’, especially in a church environment where judgement and intolerance is all too prevalent. A minister friend of mine recently coloured her dog-collar in rainbow sharpies for a LGBT celebration and that fabulous idea lingered in my mind. Visible signs can be so powerful!

The rainbow stole

The rainbow stole

I used cotton fabric as, being a green stole, it will be in frequent use. The stripes are a mixture of plain and patterned fabric, each band embellished with goldwork in a wave design. The waves are relatively calm towards the top red band, but increasingly turbulent towards the purple hem. This represents the hidden depths of feeling and turmoil experienced by those unable to acknowledge their true identity, either publicly or privately.


The beading is intended to convey the potential of every human being, regardless of how society may identify or label us. We are all God’s creation, and the Lord created nothing that is bad. We all have the potential to sparkle, if encouraged and enabled through love to be authentic, unique individuals.

The cross on the left breast is gold leather with goldwork. The beaded rainbow river is in praise of Christ’s sacrifice for all of us, with no exceptions. We are all as flawed as each other and none should ‘cast the first stone’… yet in Christ as we are perfect. The cross itself is haloed in white seed beads, symbolising purity.

Cross on left breast

Cross on left breast

On the back of the neck is a small leather cross – traditional, smooth gold, edged in gold.

Cross on neck

Cross on neck

It may be that this stole, or my sentiments, offend some people. That’s ok. Christ offended many people and He has taught me to stand up for what I believe in. I hope this stole will be a beacon of hope to someone, somewhere, someday. Do contact me if you’d like to give it a home!

More than just buttons.

More than just buttons.

There’s the long version of this story, and then there’s the short version. This should be somewhere in between!

About three years ago I had a this idea planted in my mind, of banners for our church created not just by me but by many, many hands. Banners that would bring people together. Something special, a larger-than-sensible project that would bring together the community and the church and those in between.

Whilst at work one day I was chatting with a colleague about the therapeutic properties of buttons, which can be used as a tool in counselling. These small, familiar objects come in such a vast array of colours and designs, are used by all, and are easy to stitch. I realised that this was a way in which the entire church – and out into the wider community – could be a part of the banner project. I experimented by scattering a few colour co-ordinated buttons on fabric and liked the mosaic type effect. For this to work, the design had to be kept simple, so I scribbled a star in a ‘sun-ray’ design and made a small prototype. There are just under 200 buttons on it and I quickly realised that a large banner would need considerably more!

The very first stage - scattering buttons on fabric.

The very first stage – scattering buttons on fabric.

I had mentioned the idea of a banner to the minister but our church had four large pillars and I could almost see one hanging on each pillar… so I suggested that we make four. This all coincided neatly with the run-up to Advent and those pre-Christmas events, including a candlelit procession through town with a short carol service in the open before the town lights were switched on. How lovely it would be, I was told, if the banners could be lifted above the parade…?

Having a star as a symbol of Christmas was easy. I then chose three other images; the Lamb of God, an angel bearing the good news, and a cross. It felt very important that the banners were not ‘all holly and bells’, as Christmas is only the beginning of something much greater. I also realised that the cross symbol could lead to conversations with non-church goers about the true nature of our faith, extending beyond the glitter and gifts of Christmas. I also wanted the banners, if possible, to use symbolic colours.

The central designs of the banners, picked out in silver.

The central designs of the banners, picked out in silver.

The next step was to ask the congregation for donations of fabric and buttons. Having no control over what was donated meant that I had to rely on the Holy Spirit to bring me the fabric that was needed for the colour theme of each banner! To my delight, over a few Sundays we were given the right type of fabric, in the right colours and sizes, to do exactly what was planned. One Sunday I realised I needed more purple fabric so asked for this during the notices, ‘unless anyone’s already put some at the back of the church’. When I went to the back after the service, behold – there was purple fabric! Buttons arrived in tins, bags and in huge quantities. I’d worked out that the large banners would probably use around 1000 buttons each, and they came in just as needed, in every colour imaginable.

Having marked the central point of each ray design, which would be covered by the silver symbol, the fabric was folded into triangles, pinned and tacked onto the backing calico fabric. After placing one triangle it’s a simple process to lay another beside it and continue in a circle. Once all four were done, it was time for a workshop.

Pinning the 'wedges' in place

Pinning the ‘wedges’ in place

In early November I laid out all the banners in the Centre and I hoped half a dozen people would come to help stitch the fabric to the calico. We started with a prayer and read Psalm 20. By the end of the day, nineteen people had joined in, many of them staying for the duration. Perhaps it was the lure of a bring & share lunch (300 sausage rolls and a punnet of grapes)!

The group of 'two or three' that I thought might come to help...!

The group of ‘two or three’ that I thought might come to help…!

The workshop achieved more than I dared hope, with the fabric all carefully stitched to the calico, the silver symbols ironed and over-sewn into place and the first few buttons added.

Now began the task of adding buttons, one at a time – all 4000 or so of them. [Now for practicalities…I would offer the following advice. The big rule is to choose a button that was roughly the same colour as the background fabric – red on red, blue on blue and so on, and to not add buttons over the silver symbol. Each button was to be hand stitched, almost an act of prayer in itself, although 3-4 stitched to hold it in place is sufficient, unlike a ‘functional’ button. I hope the person who suggested use of an automatic button stitching machine has forgiven my knee-jerk reaction of total horror! It’s also important to keep the buttons away from the edge of the banner so it can be trimmed and bound later on. Ensure that someone responsible is supervising the stitching, especially with small kids (age 5+ can manage with help) who may be learning this for the first time. Do not let the banners out of your sight! – as kind as it may seem, do not let people take them home to add buttons in front of the TV just for the sake of adding buttons. It’s not really the point of the exercise and you run the risk of a very dense patch of buttons that looks out of place. Practicalities over!]

I went to the town Festival Team meeting and the organiser was brilliantly supportive, using others in the team to take photographs, contact the press and really get into the spirit of joining the community and the church. I had to trust God to take me to places that would fit with my schedule so I avoided chasing and instead allowed things to take a natural course. If I was asked, I went!

At each location I gave a brief explanation for the choice of colours and symbols, at a level appropriate for the audience. The banners visited the Beavers and Brownies. The Royal British Legion welcomed us for a very moving hour or two on Remembrance Sunday; one lady added a button for her son, due to begin a tour of Afghanistan. Hundreds of buttons were added at the church Christmas bazaar. Friends added them here and there. A funeral director and bereaved families stitched buttons in memory of their loved ones. Buttons were sewn to remember foreign pen-friends on America’s death row. Christians of different denominations added buttons and those of no faith joined the fun. A passing window cleaner added one. Those who were able to sew added buttons for those who had failing eyesight or disabling arthritis. The final button was added immediately before the procession at the Christmas Festival, by the Mayor of Hillingdon.

The Mayor of Hillingdon adding the final button. (His sewing was awful!)

The Mayor of Hillingdon adding the final button. (His sewing was awful!)

Each banner, once complete, was backed in calico, the edges trimmed and then bound using bias binding, which I cut from leftover fabric to reduce cost. The top section of binding was much wider, to accommodate a pole, to which cord was tied to enable hanging.

I also organised postcards with the four symbols on the front (photos taken with a few buttons in place earlier in the process) and with a thank you note and explanation of the symbolism on the back. These were handed in batches to all participating groups as a memento for everyone. So many of the materials had been donated that the total cost (poles, backing, cord and postcards) only came to around £75!

We mounted the banners on broom handles with cup hooks for the procession which was cheap and perfectly adequate, although they are quite heavy (and rain would have been a problem due to extra weight). They looked stunning in the dark and the buttons sparkled in the candlelight.

Banners complete and ready for the procession!

Banners complete and ready for the procession!

Following the festival, the banners were finally hung in church ready for Christmas.

The banners at home in St Lawrence's Church, Eastcote.

The banners at home in St Lawrence’s Church, Eastcote.

I had no idea that I would learn so much from these banners – or rather, from the creation of them as a community activity. So many stories I could tell – and it’s important, in the context of your own community, to share these anecdotes with others as a way of linking individuals and groups. See what brings people together, rather than focusing on the more obvious differences. So much potential!

Lastly – while this was my idea, and I’ve not come across it before, it’s possible that someone somewhere has created a similar project. I’m not selling it and I’d be delighted if the idea was spread elsewhere!

More of my textile work is on

An itch that had to be scratched…

I think that – possibly, perhaps, maybe, I’m maturing as an artist. It’s about flipping time.

I adore the British landscape, I love to photograph it and I love to paint it. My colours tend to be true to nature, but something in my heart shifted and I needed to do more.

If I’m out shopping for clothes or for the home, it’s always colour that will pull me to a certain item. Usually the same turquoise, teal, or blue, and anything red with white spots! Like a magpie with glittery things, I’ll stash fabrics to make into a quilt, all in rich hues, saturated with sunsets and midsummer gardens. So it seemed a natural and instinctive idea to take one of my most popular images and just smother it with colour.

Sounds easy, right? Just enhance the colour that’s already there, hinted in the original. I used the paint almost direct from the tube. I abandoned the idea of blending, letting the brushmarks exist in their own right. I layered over the bright sky and over the shaded sandbanks. Deep browns were touched with cerulean blue, pale grey clouds smudged with purple, pale skies smattered with red and orange and lemon.

The first highly alarming injection of lemon yellow

The first highly alarming injection of lemon yellow

It felt awful. Uncomfortable. I stepped away, went off to do something else and returned a couple of hours later and added more paint. I layered with yet more colour, mixed with linseed oil to add some translucence, and eventually decided that I was about to smother the underpainting which held the whole together. I stopped.

Am I happy with it? I’m not sure, but I know that I needed to do this and I feel a deep need to inject more colour into my work, but I’m not sure that this is the way I’ll do it! For now – here is The Experiment.

The experiment .

The experiment .

Colouring in…

Colouring in…

I can’t help being rather jealous of those lucky people who have a good sense of colour. I don’t just mean interior designers who can grasp the latest fashions and fads; this week it’s lime green with chocolate, next week it’s teal with magenta (dahling). I mean those people who pick out colours and have an innate sense of what they wish to convey emotionally through the medium of colour.

I’ve just seen the most gorgeous crochet quilt posted on Facebook by Little Cotton Rabbits. It’s gorgeous -and it’s the wonderful sense of softness in the colours that make it so special. (Her other work is wonderful too – go and pay her a visit!)

Little Cotton Rabbits crochet blanket

Little Cotton Rabbits crochet blanket

I’d never think of using those colours. It’s just not ‘me’. So what is ‘me’? That’s my problem – I haven’t a clue. I love the colours of God’s creation – whether it’s a vivid cluster of flowers in a meadow, all haphazard and disorganised, or the palest hues of a bleached-out coastal walk. I love vibrant textiles in the house, quilts and cushions; but I also adore the rich, deep tones on the beams and doors in our cottage. If it wasn’t for the practical disadvantages, I’d have an all-white room, calming for the soul, or perhaps pastel blue and white, like vintage Delft china. Colours; I love them all. Which really isn’t very helpful when I’m trying to go with the flow and discover my artistic identity, colour-wise.

Which brings me to my latest creation. I was working from a photograph taken in winter with a low-setting sun to the right, blessing every open surface with a vivid orange. The whole thing is orange with brown… and on canvas it looks like a dirty protest! So, being brave and bold, I decided to ditch the photo. With the basic structure and tone in place I created shadows and highlights and – to contrast with the orange of autumn, a swathe of bluebells topping the banks, and early spring green in the boughs. What a joy! Then… yellow splashes of sunlight on bark. A random pinkbell. And… no, STOP!

See, it’s so easy to get carried away. Or… should I have gone further..?

It’s on the drying wall now and – in May – I’ll be walking up to the trees looking for the bluebells.

Walking to Chequers

Walking to Chequers

Sometimes the weather forecasters get it right…

Sometimes the weather forecasters get it right…

It’s a bit of a national sport, weather-forecaster-bashing. Poor Michael Fish – remember the hurricane that wasn’t? We seem to forget that technology has now given us forecasts that are really fairly accurate, although not infallible! And so, to my experience. Let me set the scene.

I’m not a nervous sailor. When I was fourteen I went on a school cruise and the force 9-10 storm was nothing but an exciting adventure for me. I felt sorry (with the empathy of a selfish teen) for the other kids who couldn’t help the unending stream of upchuck, but I remained unaffected. I’ve been on a yacht, once, and the force 8 didn’t trouble me either.

Hubby is from Ireland, where most of his family remains, and so we regularly bob across the Irish Sea on which ever ferry is offering the most appropriate sailing time or cost effective deal. We leave with neatly packed cases, a few bottles of supplies and a sense of anticipation; we return with bags haphazardly stuffed and the boot half filled with several kilos of Flahavans porridge and a couple of bottles of Yorkshire Relish (not available in England. Go figure).

On this occasion our departure to Ireland was swift and unplanned following a family bereavement. The Irish really have the whole funeral thing sorted, with the funeral just three days later, and through our sadness we were able to celebrate a wonderful man and a life well lived. Two days after the funeral we drove to Rosslare for a 9am departure (complete with Flahavans and Yorkshire Relish). The weather was bitter, with snow flurries the previous day, and very strong northerlies. I Googled the maritime forecast; for 7-8, rising to force 9, occasional force 10. Flip. Neither hubby Patrick nor I dared mention what we would do if the ferry was cancelled – by this time I think we were both tired after an emotional week and just wanted to get home.

At Rosslare the Irish Ferry was announced as cancelled and all the lorries were driving off, negotiating a chicane of cones and driving onto our ferry, the Stena Europe. Why one ferry was cancelled and the other should sail was beyond me, but then I’m not a mariner and I was too tired to question the expertise of a Proper Captain.

We boarded and as per our little tradition, went up on deck to wave farewell to the Emerald Isle in the bone-numbing chill. White horses galloped merrily across the water – and that was inside the safe harbour walls. Patrick was glad he’d only had a small breakfast at 5am.


A little later than scheduled, we departed. The Captain assured us that he’d be using the stabilisers (prompting thoughts of toddlers squealing and wibbling about on pink bicycles) and that he’d do his best to make our journey ‘comfortable’. He did his best. P and I found a seat in the middle of the fairly empty boat – the fulcrum, less movement – and while P laid flat I had a wander. I chatted with the nice lady in the shop. I giggled as I meandered from side to side in lazy circles until I was sleepy enough to doze and I joined P on the couch. We read and chatted and I took numerous photos of the sea which really was quite spectacular. Waves were smashing against our window on deck 7 – and I don’t just mean the spray!


The Captain, with a gentle Irish lilt and a voice like velvet, explained that it might be a ‘little rocky’ when he pulls in the stabilisers to enter Fishguard harbour, and asked us to remain seated. Fair enough. We sat. The boat began to turn. And that’s when it all went horribly wrong.

We began to roll to the left, further over and over, until I instinctively leaned to the right and gripped the table – as if that was going to help! A four letter word which normally never escapes my lips erupted in force, as a massive crash of smashing glass came from the bar and every hefty seagoing, spring-loaded door slammed in unison. The boat heaved back upright and swung over the other way – cue more smashing of glass and banging of doors. And a bit of swearing. The laws of physics tossed us back over the other way again but – thank God – the boat settled as we slowed and pootled into the harbour. The moment was captured by Lisa Roberts, who posted the photo onto Facebook for the rest of the world to see (usually commenting that they were jolly glad they weren’t on board).


I cannot describe how relieved I felt once we were actually tied up at the mooring. As I popped to the ladies I saw a crew member discussing how to deal with the vast quantity of glass that had strewn itself all over the floor. Having negotiated the loo, strewn with mops, bins and other unexpected items, P and I sat waiting to be told to go to our car. However the Captain announced that there was a problem.

An entire lorry had toppled over on the car deck. As the waves were so strong we had moored the wrong way round, so all the lorries would have to negotiate a way around the toppled lorry and reverse off – with a two metre swell at the harbour side. It just wasn’t possible and with the boat lurching violently the mooring ropes were strained to breaking point. The Captain announced that we had no choice but to head to sea and ride out the storm, which wasn’t due to ease until lunchtime the following day. And to please sit down as we left harbour without stabilisers again.

My thoughts – looking back – were random and assorted. In no particular order, this is what crossed my fearful, tired mind.

  • The boat could fall apart.
  • We might need the lifeboats – I’d just seen the crew carrying out sudden maintenance of the lowering mechanisms.
  • We could sink.
  • We could hit the shore.
  • We could hit another boat.
  • Why are they sounding the horn every couple of minutes?
  • Who the hell would be out in a boat in this weather?
  • We won’t hit another boat.
  • I’m too tired to deal with this.
  • The Captain knows what he’s doing.
  • The Captain hasn’t a clue what he’s doing.
  • I have too much to do in my life for it to end off the Welsh coast.

Patrick’s stomach finally gave up and as the boat heaved, so did he. The crew swept the bar and offered free tea. We were given a cabin and within a few minutes everyone had taken refuge in their own pod of safety. However while Patrick found this horizontal cocoon the best place to be, I found it terrifying; being closer to the hull, I cringed at every bang and slap of the waves and the lurching as I clung to my bunk was exhausting. As the sun went down and darkness seeped into every nook and cranny of my soul, I felt incredibly isolated.

You will, hopefully, see a video here…!

P hugged me close and reassured me and I loved him for his attempts, but at this point I decided to head up to the communal area – the cabin was just too claustrophobic. To my surprise and relief, the pounding of waves was less alarming up there (and it doesn’t look so bad in that video either – darn!!)

Now this is the surreal bit. As I stood leaning against the bar awaiting tea (I’m British, what else would I do in a crisis?) I struck up a conversation with a tall distinguished looking gentleman. I had nothing to do, nowhere to go and he was intellectually superior, so I let the conversation evolve. We soon turned to questions of faith; he is a staunch Roman Catholic and I am a reasonably liberal Anglican. Bearing in mind my lovely Irish Catholic family, I had an opportunity to ask him about his approach to worshipping the same God as me with a view to better understanding my in laws. Let’s just say that, for the following hour or so, I was intrigued, fascinated and appalled that someone could profess to be Christian, share so much truth, and yet fall so utterly short of Christ’s teachings. He may be able to read the Bible in Greek. He may have some teachings factually correct. He may understand rules, but he is astonishingly lacking in love. A modern day Pharisee at sea… whose parting shot as I finally made my escape was to tell me that my parents in law (one of whom had been laid to rest) had gone to hell.

He did me a favour because for the rest of the night my mind was focused on exactly why my faith is alive and thriving, and I wasn’t listening to the heaving and lurching of the boat or my husband.

By 9pm the boat had reached waters that were calmer – although had we walked onto the boat on a normal crossing we would have described it as ‘rough’! P came upstairs and we managed a small portion of scampi and chips before heading to bed. Again I found it too claustrophobic so wandered the decks like a lost sailor until I was too tired, but with the noise of waves in the cabin I slept badly. The horn blared as if int he distance, over and over again. Minutes stretched into hours and – eventually – dawn broke, agonisingly slowly, and I returned to wandering the decks. We ate breakfast, we drank tea, and eventually we docked and we cheered and drove off into oblivion. And, just as quickly, the crew cleared up and prepared to do the return trip. Just like that.

One thing that really, really helped me was being able to get online – thank God P managed to grab our chargers from the car before the lower decks were closed. Little did they know it, but my friends and the lovely people who follow my Facebook page became my terra firma. They send me photos, good wishes, updates and copious prayers from around the world, around the clock, and I love and thank them for it.

It’s just as well the same lovely people couldn’t see me or smell me.

So there we have it. 35 hours to complete a 12 hour journey, including 27 hours at sea. If you’ve read this far, congratulations; if not… *blows raspberry*.