For those in the Northern hemisphere who are sent my blog, today (26 August) is our 54th wedding anniversary – because of the time difference in New Zealand and Australia my blog tends to be received the following day. Whatever, 54 years ago Caroline and I ‘tied the knot’ and now here we are, a lifetime later, with four children and eight grandchildren. As is the case with so many, with the pandemic this past year has been tough for family life. The various lockdowns have meant that there have been periods when we have seen little of children and grandchildren – thank God for Facetime! We did manage to visit our youngest son Benjamin, his wife Kathryn, and their 2 year old Agatha in Egypt – but had to return a few days early because Egypt was going on the red list – that was all quite hair-raising! All being well, this coming year will be a great improvement!
In this blog, if you will forgive me, I intend to be unusually personal and focus on Caroline. These past twelve months have been a difficult year for her. This time last year Caroline was still in office as a busy senior coroner. With some 7,000 deaths a year reported to her, it was always a challenging – but even more so with her staff working mostly from home and with all the limitations on inquests arising as a result of government restrictions. Then, in January, after over 20 years as HM Senior Coroner for Essex, Caroline retired. Alas, the retirement celebrations were simply a Zoom call and were limited – the retirement dinner I had planned had to be cancelled. Not even the family could get together to mark her 75th birthday. The ‘big trip’ to Vietnam (inspired by Caroline’s experience of leading the investigation into the tragedy of the 39 Vietnamese found dead in a lorry in Essex) never materialised. Instead of going up to London in pursuit of culture, she was ‘locked down’ well and truly. There was no investiture at Buckingham Place at which to receive her OBE – although she has since learnt that there is likely to be a ceremony later this year at St James’ Palace.
However, there have been positives. In the autumn Caroline was elected as a public governor for the new merged hospital foundation trust for Mid- and South Essex comprising three large acute hospitals in Broomfield (Chelmsford), Basildon and Southend. Her task, along with her fellow governors, includes holding the Trust to account – as well as promoting the Trust to the wider public. Although the position of governor is an unpaid position, it is an extraordinarily busy and demanding role, with Zoom or Team meetings most days and often with reports several hundred pages long to read. As I write she is about to attend by Zoom a two-day national conference in which she has been asked to speak on her experience of being a new governor, and in particular on her experience of the so-called ‘buddy’ system for new governors. With her experience as a coroner and also her experience of having introduced mentoring to coroners, she has much to offer.
I think the idea of holding to account public bodies such as hospitals is excellent. Unfortunately, some of the practices of the hospitals in Caroline’s ‘charge’ could be improved, with hospital staff at every grade needing to ‘up their game’. On reflection, many churches could benefit from having to give account of themselves regularly to a wider body. Just as ministers are encouraged to have annual appraisals, there is much to be said for all volunteers being regularly appraised. Indeed, I like the idea of local churches as a whole undergoing some kind of appraisal every three or four years.
But to return to Caroline, although we can never return to the way things were before the pandemic, I trust that most of the restrictions we have endured will soon become a thing of the past. Hopefully, Caroline will soon be able to fulfil some of her dreams for her retirement – and also that we can begin to do things together. We have been invited to a golden wedding celebration in Germany that had to be deferred from last year. We long to get to Vancouver to see again our eldest son Jonathan, his wife Fiona together with David, Theo and Sophie. God willing, this time next year we shall be able to celebrate our emerald wedding anniversary in style!
Whatever, this year we have much for which to thank God. When friends have died or have suffered from long Covid, we have kept well and were doubly vaccinated around Easter time. When so many have been cooped up with their children in small high-rise flats, we have been blessed with a comfortable home and a large garden. Through Zoom and email we have had the support and stimulation of friends near and far. And, of course, we have been blessed with one another!