Once upon a time, a possibly fictitious Robin Hood and his band of merry men lived in a very real Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. Incidentally, so does a delightful band of this modern working girl’s merry relatives. With Christmas on the horizon, we headed north for a day’s visit.
You may remember this girl, who I now dub the Mathematician. She lives in Nottingham with her three brothers, two sisters-in-law, one mother, and most sweet of all, our two mutual grandparents.
We know that a visit to their cosy bungalow means good coffee, good conversation, and on special occasions, a delicious roast with out-of-this-world Scottish pinhead oat and onion stuffing. In fact, come to think of it, we should visit more often.
My grandfather is a retired minister of the Baptist church, and grandmother a retired nurse (and minister’s wife, and equally demanding profession), and both spent about a decade in India with their young family in the 50s and 60s. The stories are inexhaustible, worth every mile driven from Oxford, and littered with hidden wisdoms and hints of a steadfast devotion to God’s work. I say ‘hidden’ and ‘hints’, because they are rarely “preachy” and never holier-than-thou. I suppose I mean to say this: as one listens, the years of these two lives well-lived unfold like a patchwork quilt which has been pieced together over eight decades. The fabrics are occasionally excitable reds and yellows, sometimes more morosely navies or maroons, or frequently that steady but deep chocolate brown of hard labour and little rest. As the quilt unfolds, the viewer gradually gains an awareness of the hands of the artist, and after years of listening, it seems undeniable that merely human hands could not have created such a storied quilt with any structural integrity.
I for one always drive home in hope and prayer that our lives would unfold in the shadow of theirs. I think many people hope to strike out from family in the great wide world and make a new name, or start a new story. I only hope the Philosopher and I can pick up the end of their thread.