This year I picked up a study book from the Pauline Bookshop in Glasgow last weekend. The bookshop and Whittards, the tea/coffee shop are the two staple stop offs whenever we are visiting.
The opening study was all about being blindsided – the way that life takes you by surprise and knocks you off the secure path you were on.
It has been a blindsiding week for me. There has been nothing dramatic but a series of small little irritations. A visit to the doctor earlier on in the week produced a diagnosis of tendonitis in my right wrist. I have a sore paw. It was more sore after the doctor had played with it. It should be renamed – tender-nitus. I have a supply of tablets which I neglect to take so the sore paw is taking its time to recover.
Then a letter arrived in the post a day or two ago from the Electoral Register Officer informing me that I needed to prove I was me if I wished to vote in the coming elections. Apparently they have moved to a new system of registering people. Most people’s names slid easily from old to new – from caterpillar to butterfly without the dark cocoon stage. My name didn’t slide across. My name failed to make the new register and I took myself and my passport along to the office. The front entrance hall was being refurbished so I was diverted through a series of corridors through the back door. If it hadn't been for a very clear picture in my head of women chaining themselves to railings I might have not bothered. My vote matters to me. I'm back on the register.
Finally. Imagine yourself as a player in the real events that inspired the film “The Great Escape”, that wonderful war film that I have seen so often I could repeat the script entirely and without fault. Tom, Dick and Harry were the tunnels. Let’s talk about Harry. Harry is the stuff of folklore. On the night of March 24, 1944 the Allied prisoners gathered in hut 104 before crawling along the 100ft tunnel to a brief taste of freedom. Only three escaped; 73 were rounded up by the Germans and 50 were executed.
My own personal Harry showed up just before Christmas or perhaps just after. “They” were looking to make savings and for the first time ever “they” were relaxing the rules regarding early retirement and winding down. There were options presented. I don’t have that long to retirement but the option of taking my foot off the gas without it affecting my pension looked appealing. My boss agreed and gave his blessing and I set off to crawl into the tunnel. The drop in session to talk to the experts and collect the form to fill in was like a enemy officer pointing his rifle as me as my head emerged.
“So how many years have you been in the job?”
“Since 1981,” I replied impressing her. Do the maths – if I do it I start to hyperventilate.
Most impressive I hear you say. Had it been a life sentence in a jail I would have been out long ago, even without the good behaviour. The trouble is only the last 23 years applied to Scotland and I needed 25 years to qualify.
“No worries,” said the woman, “if you transferred your English pension when you took up your Scottish post those years will count.”
“If” is a very important word. I didn’t transfer the pension. I had opted out of SERPS and I had a pension scheme with someone else. I had five years teaching in a church school with no pension at all. I had a catch-up pension to cover those years – but the long and short of it was Harry was collapsing all around me and the enemy had his finger on the trigger of his rifle.
So, yes, I have had a blindsiding week. I was knocked over, perhaps, but not derailed. I am made of sterner stuff.
Apparently there was a fourth tunnel. After executing 50 of the captured escapees the camp officer thought he had deterred the rest of them. They built George. Not everyone knew about George. He was discovered when the site was excavated years later.
Perhaps I should call my Bible George. He’s not really an escape tunnel because the Christian faith is not about escaping. It is about engaging with life and living it to full in spite of the things that blindside us.
I read the story of Daniel and responded in verse.
can find no fault with him so
they dig their hole and
bait their trap
in the presence of His enemies
daniel spreads his table
praise is the main course
he gives thanks to God
extolling the splendour of
the Ancient of Days
he will not change his ways
or cut the cloth of his prayer
to suit his enemies
is just as it has always been
undisturbed by the
posturing of small men