Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at:


The Gloom Master

In one of the supermarkets I use there’s a till clerk whom I’ve awarded the honorary title of ‘Gloom Master.’ Over the past year, I cannot recollect one single positive response from the woman when I’ve greeted her as I paid for my groceries. If I ask ‘how are you today?’ The response most often is ‘awful.’ If I mention that it looks lovely outside today, her response is ‘well, I’ll never see it, will I?’

I’m ashamed to say that there have been times when I’ve perused the tills to see who was working them, so as to choose anyone but the Gloom Master to ring up my purchases. But yesterday I found myself again standing in queue as she dealt with customers ahead of me.

Just before me was a petite lady who I would guess was in her seventies. As Gloom Master scanned the woman’s items there was no dialogue between them. And when Gloom Master finished scanning the items, she simply stopped and waited for the woman to put her items in shopping bags. Still, no words were exchanged.

The senior shopper looked at Gloom Master and asked ‘well?’ Gloom Master responded with ‘Well what?’ With what appeared to be a hint of a twinkle in her eyes, the little lady told Gloom Master, ‘Well, dear, you’re supposed to tell me how much I owe for the groceries.’

You would have thought Gloom Master had taken an advanced training course in customer service from the staff of Ryanair. ‘The price is right there,’ replied the Till Nazi. Gloom Master barely lifted her arm to point to the till total displayed on the monitor.

It could have been a scene from When Harry Met Sally. The tiny lady slowly looked at the total displayed on the monitor, then looked back at Gloom Master. ‘Yes, dear,' she said. 'I see the screen, but you’re supposed to tell me what the total is.’ I couldn’t help but grin as I watched this battle of the minds. ‘No I don’t,’ retorted Gloom Master, ‘that’s what the display is for.’

I had anticipated that the lady was going to just give up and pay the total and possibly mutter to herself about the poor service. But how wrong I was! ‘ Dear,’ I loved how she used the word dear like a shovel to clean up a mess on the floor. ‘ We are humans and humans are supposed to talk to one another.’ At that, the small woman, who was growing very tall in my eyes, handed a twenty-pound note to Gloom Master.

Gloom Master didn’t look up. She gathered up the coins in change and dropped them on the counter, without offering any eye contact at all. I thought it was a wonderful exchange between the two women who age-wise were probably not that far apart, but in perspectives on life, they were miles apart. ‘Now say ‘Thank you,’ dear,’ the woman stood her ground in front of Gloom Master, all the while smiling such a sweet and loving smile.

Gloom Master ignored her and started to grab at my groceries. She had gotten one item past the scanner, but I quickly reached over, grabbing my groceries, preventing them from moving further down the belt.

‘You haven’t said thank you yet to the lady,’ I politely reminded her. Gloom Master instantly turned on what I can only describe as a ‘Bette Davis, Baby Jane Hudson’ theatrical smile and looked at me and said, ‘Thank you.’ And she turned to the woman, whilst maintaining the same rather possessed looking smile and said ‘thank you’ to the woman.

She didn’t miss a step. The little lady smiled back at Gloom Master and said, ‘You’re welcome. Have a lovely day.’ And at that she collected her small push trolley and proceeded out the store.

I could have said more to Gloom Master, but now wasn’t the time. I only had a few items and I wanted to catch up with the lady who had so valiantly stood her ground before old sourpuss. I found her heading towards the bus stop.

I introduced myself and told her I was pleased that she had stood up to Gloom Master, mentioning what I had named the woman. The lady told me that she had been a schoolteacher for 52 years and manners hold no age limit. I asked her if Gloom Master had been rude to her before. She tickled me greatly when she told me that she actually looks for Gloom Master whenever she comes to the store, because she’s determined to make the woman be nicer to customers.

I asked if she had ever complained to the store about her. The woman said ‘no,’ and explained that if she did all would happen is that the woman would either lose her job or have more reason to be miserable.

Who says I’m too old to learn from a teacher? I’ve decided that next week, before I go to the store, I’m going to buy a small bunch of flowers for old Gloom Master. And I’m going to present them to the store’s service desk with an anonymous card. I’ll write, ‘thank you for making someone smile last week.’

Let’s see what happens.


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When A Hand Isn't Enough

I intentionally put off writing this for a few days in the hopes that I would have some good news to offer about ‘Gwen’ and her two children. Sadly, I haven’t.

When I returned to the B&B to help Gwen take the next steps towards getting settled in their new environment, I was saddened to learn that they were gone.

The other residents had little news they could offer. One woman knew that Gwen had been using the pay phone quite a few times. And according to the B&B manager, Gwen told her that she was going ‘home.’

I went back to the Social Services office in hopes of getting some details as to Gwen’s original address, but understandably, the Data Protection Act prevented them from giving me any information. I also went to the caravan park and knocked on two of the adjacent caravans to where I first visited Gwen and the children. I wanted to see if anyone knew how to contact them or the owner of the caravan. No one did. I even asked the park manager, who wasn’t helpful at all.

For any of us who has tried to extend a helping hand for people in crisis, only to see them choose to continue that cycle of misery, abuse and sorrow, we should not be too quick to judge. It can often be difficult for them to accept that there can be a better life and that they are worthy of that better life.

This is often the crux of the problem: Someone has spent their entire life feeling unworthy, and being told they’re unworthy; once they’ve climbed out of that spiral of sorrow, it takes more than just a few hands to keep them from slipping back into the abyss.

Most Loving God, We pray that you embrace Gwen and her children during their time of confusion and fear. Hear our prayers for her children who suffer at the hands of parents whom they love and trust. Help Gwen to know that there is help available and protect all of them in their time of darkness. Guide them towards light and help Gwen to make the right decision for her sake and for her children’s sake. Amen

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First Steps

On Friday I spoke with the Social Services office about Gwen and her children. They tell me that she may have to remain in the B&B for up to six weeks. She suggested that I contact the man who originally arranged their accommodation. Oh joy!

In the meantime I’ve collected a number of things for them-clothes for the children, some toys, a radio and clock, and I’ll stop by the supermarket to get some more food items before I go to the B&B. I’ve also spoken with a neighbour who has agreed to look after the children for the day, later this week, so Gwen can begin to get some essential things done, such as registering with the GP, visiting schools, etc.

My neighbour is in her late seventy’s. She has three daughters and it’s always a delight to see them together. Her daughters, obviously, are all grown, but they’re constantly visiting and bringing the grandchildren over for visits. Last Summer they invited me to join them in the garden for a picnic. It’s a perfect place for Gwen’s children to stay for a few hours. It’s safe, they’ll be well cared for, and I think my neighbour enjoys having more to do.

I’ll ask Gwen whether she and the children would like to come to church with me this Sunday. I’ll be able to introduce her to other families and I think she could use some company. She certainly won’t feel excluded or as if she’s just a visitor. I've also spoken with a local florist who needs someone to help a few hours each week and if we could balance the children staying with my neighbour, and Gwen having a small job, Social Services would be bound to find accommodation close to where Gwen works.

We’ll see.


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Their New 'Life'

I arrived early this morning to take the woman (I’m going to call her ‘Gwen’), and her children to collect their emergency Social Services funds. Again, I didn’t fully know what to expect. I assumed she would be given some cash to take with her, but she wasn’t. Instead she was given something that resembled a postal order, which we then had to take to the post office for her to cash. It was a total of £93.50! Incredible!

I listened intently to the Social Service clerk explain that a cheque would be sent to Gwen at the B&B. They couldn’t tell yet how much it would be. I had to keep asking the woman to repeat what she was saying because I wanted Gwen to first hear what was being said, but it was nearly impossible for me to hear the clerk through the holes drilled through the thick Perspex window. It was a demeaning experience.

I had picked up some more milk, cereal and bananas. But I had forgotten about them when I arrived at the B&B. They were still in the boot of the car. I had the impression that the children had not eaten this morning. As we drove back to the B&B I decided to stop at the McDonald’s near the seafront. I absolutely loathe McDonald’s, but it had a ‘play’ area and I wanted to have a moment to speak with Gwen. I couldn’t just take her back to the B&B and forget about them.

The children, (I’ll call them Lisa and Laura), were delighted. Breakfast wasn’t on offer any more. But I asked Gwen if it were okay for me to get them happy meals after they played for a bit. She just nodded. I don’t think she was accustomed to people offering her any choices.

I asked Gwen whether she had any plans as to what she would do now. She hadn’t a clue. She said she missed her friends up north. I asked if she had anyone she could stay with closer to where she had come from. Gwen more or less babbled about several people, as if I knew them, but from what I gathered, the answer was no. I repeated what the Social Services lady had said to us. After her case was reviewed, there would be steps to find more permanent housing for them. She looked at me and said ‘But I hadn't got no furniture or nothing like that.’

I told her I understood, but we’d take first steps first. I tried to speak in the colloquial ‘we’ in hopes that she wouldn’t feel so alone in the thought process. I also noticed for the first time that she has a slight shake to her arm. I couldn’t tell whether it was from nerves or some ailment. But it reminded me of what I wanted to talk about.

I suggested that ‘we’ get her and the children registered with a local GP immediately. And I mentioned that we should enquire about getting Laura into a school. I knew that considering what we had experienced with Social Services, they could end up living anywhere, but I still felt it better to give Laura some activity and a sense of normality…whatever normality means in such a situation. I asked whether Laura had been attending a school where they lived before. Gwen said she hadn’t. Nor had she attended any nursery or day care programmes.

The three of them ate chicken happy meals. I bought milk and orange juice for the children and coffee for Gwen. I also bought a cup of coffee for myself but once I set it down on the table I realised that I really didn't want it.

I was now more in a position to observe the children. Lisa is 2 ‘and a few,’ as if her mother couldn’t precisely recall when she was born. Laura will turn 6 in June. Both of them look pale, under nourished, and exhausted. My guess was that they hadn’t had a bath since arriving at the B&B. I asked Gwen how the accommodation was. She said it was ‘nice.’ I asked if she had everything she needed, such as ‘soap, flannels, shampoo, etc,’ (knowing that I had bought some soap and shampoo the day before.) ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘We have all we need.’

I took them back to the B&B. I’ve told Gwen that I’ll stop by on Saturday afternoon and I gave her a card with my telephone number. I told her to ring me if she had any concerns about anything.

On the way home I stopped to speak with the Headteacher at the local Church school. They had no placements available and the Headteacher suggested that I go to the nearby state school. Perhaps there will be some developments before Saturday. If not, I’ll visit the other school on Monday. It’s just a matter of balancing time. I have a full dance card tomorrow, including hospital visits and a funeral.

I’ve been reflecting over why I couldn’t visualise these children last night. I think I understand why now.

Whenever I travel to Eastern Europe I have a moment where I leave ‘our world’ behind me. My pace alters slightly, my speech patterns slow and my awareness changes, so that I look for different things and I look at things differently. If you have worked abroad as a volunteer or in a foreign ministry, you will probably understand what I mean.

When I come home, it is essential that I have a break–period where I’m allowed to sit in silence. It can’t be while I’m travelling. I need to be at home, or in a church, or a field, but I need to be alone–in silence. And I take that time to reflect, pray, and emotionally set all I’ve seen and touched and experienced aside for a moment. Sometimes I even find myself speaking aloud, saying ‘ I’m home now.’ There’s comfort in that word "Home."

I think what happened with Lisa and Laura is that I saw too much of what I travel thousands of miles to see. And it disturbed me greatly. When I return home there are many images I must remove from the forefront of my memory. I must. And part of that process is by not allowing myself to look too deeply into the eyes of the children I serve. Of course I communicate with them, love them, and of course I look them in the eye, but there’s a point where you ‘absorb’ them. And when that happens they capture a part of your soul. And to serve many, you simply cannot focus only on one.

I must stop writing for a moment.

When The Church Sins

Who Are We Forgetting?

Look Both Ways

Try a Little Dog in Your Life!


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The Caravan

The rain is ricocheting off the windows right now and the wind is whipping off the sea, making the raindrops sound like pellets from an air gun. I can’t get my mind off of the woman with the two children we came across at the grocers this weekend.

I went to the caravan park yesterday. It wasn’t as easy to find them as I thought it would be. Even in this cold, horrible Autumn weather, it appeared that most of the caravans–at least the larger ones, were occupied. I had to knock on two caravan doors before I was directed to the right one. And the residents of those caravans seemed to be in just as difficult a situation as the woman I was going to see.

She looked surprised to see me. All I could do was stand in the doorway. The children were sitting on a bench that served as a bed at night, plastic dishes were sitting in a large bowl, and the caravan reeked of dirty nappies and body odour. The two children had a small plastic lorry that they were pushing back and forth along the bench top.

I asked the mother if she had been in contact again with Social Services. She repeated the same thing she had told me the day before–that they said they couldn’t help her until she had a proper address. She showed me a form letter a staff member had handed her, where they had written down a case number and had ticked why she was not qualifying for any assistance. The form said the woman already lived in ‘supported accommodation,’ somewhere up north. I asked the woman about it.

It was clear that she didn’t possess the mental inventory, nor the social skills to effectively communicate her case. To me it made sense. She was in an abusive relationship, he left the house for a moment, and whilst it was safe for her to do so, she gathered up the children and left, fearful that he would soon return.

But Social Services had interpreted it as ‘she had left her accommodation of her own free will and because her partner wasn’t there at the time, she and the children were under no threat or impending danger. She clearly was in a paradoxical situation and she was unable to effectively explain her situation to the ‘form tickers’ at Social Services.

It would have been impossible for her and the children to ride the multiple busses necessary for her to get back to the Social Service office. Considering the time of day I had come, it also would have taken the entire day. I agreed to take her.

After all the palaver of getting the children out of the car, getting into the building and standing in what appeared to be an endless queue, we finally arrived at a security glassed window. I spoke on her behalf. I learned that we were at the wrong place. "And besides, she would have to be declared 'resident' somewhere before they could help her." We would have to drive 15 miles to another location and first declare her as homeless. Then she would be granted emergency accommodation. So off we headed.

The man who helped us was appallingly disinterested and curt. So much so that I became angry. The man more or less sighed at my obvious frustration. He told me that he gets ‘dozens just like her every day.’ I pointed out to him that whilst he might hear this every hour on the hour, it’s the first time she is there and she deserves to be listened to with the compassion that his job description detailed and that if he were unable to do this, then I’d be pleased to help her file a formal complaint against him. He changed his attitude. Thank goodness.

According to their ‘rules’ the woman couldn’t be declared homeless or in crisis if she already had accommodation somewhere else. She had made the statement that her partner wasn’t there when she left, so with this pathetic ‘means testing’ guideline, the housing chap had to follow, took them in the direction that she and the children were not at risk.

I helped her convey the situation more effectively. Plus, I learned that the police had been called to their home on several occasions due to her partner’s aggression. Therefore, this helped to ‘qualify’ them for the ‘next step.’

After whatever fiddling about the man had to do, which required him telling us to leave and come back in an hour, and then finding the office was closed till 2, we eventually were able to see him again. Oh joy.

Good. She had now ‘qualified’ for emergency housing assistance. The cretin..excuse me...housing officer had to add that 'the only reason she qualified was because of the children.' They would now have a place to stay. Unfortunately, however, there was no place in my community, nor was there anything available near where she had been staying. The closest was in Eastbourne, about 45 minutes away in the opposite direction. The housing clerk gave the woman a sheet of paper for the allotment of a room in one of Eastbourne's grubbier B&B's and another document to present to the Social Service office where she could get some emergency money.

I felt terrible because by this time it was late in the afternoon and I dreaded going back to that office again. There are literally hundreds of people there, all in the direst of situations and you have to wait. But we had no choice. She needed money for food. So off we went to the office again.

But once I found a place to park, got the children out, and traipsed up the hill to the office, as I walked up to the counter, the receptionist told me they were unable to take any more applicants for the day. I told her that this was an emergency. But she told me there was nothing she could do. We’d have to come back tomorrow.

I know the poor woman I was with didn’t realise it, but transportation the following morning for her would have been an absolute nightmare, and most likely 3–4 busses just for her to get back to this place. I looked at the children and imagined the emotional exhaustion she must have felt. She said very little to me - I gather she was grateful someone else was doing the fighting for her.

I tried to put a good face on the situation. I said ‘never mind, we’ll come back tomorrow.’ I told her we’d pick up some groceries on the way to the B&B.

The term ‘B&B’ can have some dramatic interpretations in Britain. Don’t think of a warm fluffy welcome, frilly sheets, and a comfortable sitting room. This place was appalling! There was a communal kitchen. Nothing was in it. A sitting room with three sofas and an ancient telly. The walls were tan with stained cigarette smoke. But otherwise, the rest of the place met the legal requirements. There were fire doors, alarms, a secure door on their room. But the communal bathroom was just like the rest of the place. The linens were left on the bed. They were clean and probably from an industrial laundry. There were 4 single beds in the room, a sink, and a table that could seat two, a small wardrobe and 2 chairs. But at least it was warm and certainly safer than the caravan they were in.

I felt badly about leaving them. We had picked up their meagre belongings at the caravan and taken them with us to the B&B. And we picked up groceries along the way. But as I left, I went back to the supermarket and bought some crayons, colouring books, a story–book, some much needed shampoo, a hairbrush, and a few little packages of toys and I went back to the B&B.

When the woman opened the door, she was smiling. She told me they were all happy and they loved their room. I glanced around once more trying to see what she saw that would make anyone happy. It touched me deeply.

I’ll go back in the morning, so I can take them back to the Social Service office so she can collect the small pittance they will give her to help them start their new life.

I’m feeling guilty this morning because no matter how I try, I can’t clearly recall the children’s faces. That’s not the norm for me.


When The Church Sins

Who Are We Forgetting?

Do You Believe in Dog?

It's So Easy To Judge Others

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You Needn’t Look Far

My daughter and I stopped by the supermarket this afternoon–bare essentials to pick up–milk, bread, and eggs.

It would have been impossible not to notice the woman a few metres ahead of us. Her hair looked as if it had not been brushed in days and in her arms was a child, who I would guess was close to 2 years old. Beside her was another child–a girl, somewhere between the age of four and five. She was looking up at her mother, saying something that I could not hear.

The mother seemed to be moving in a mechanical fashion. She certainly wasn’t acknowledging the child beside her.

There’s a section in the front of the store where pre–packaged sandwiches, fizzy drinks and crisps are sold. I watched the woman reach for a sandwich. As she balanced the smaller child in her arm, she fumbled with the packaging, ripping it open, and extracted one of the sandwich halves. She took a large bite out of it and then pointed the sandwich into the mouth of the child in her arms, who bit into it immediately.

She then handed the remainder of the sandwich half to the small girl. By that time I had moved close enough to hear her. ‘Hurry up, eat it,’ the woman said to the child. She then took a bite out of the remaining half and again pointed the sandwich to the child in her arms. The child, I couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl, again, quickly swallowed the piece of sandwich. And then the woman did something quite strange.

She placed the packaging back onto the shelf and quickly shoved it towards the back of the cooler, so that it would be out of sight. The woman then moved a few steps towards the beginning of the fruit section of the store. As if it didn’t matter what would have been in the crates, she reached over and picked up a plum. The woman quickly took a bite out of it and repeated the routine with the children– feeding the child in her arms and handing bits of food to the little girl.

I watched this for a few minutes. The woman never once looked around her to see whether anyone was watching her. She never looked up to see if there were cameras about. It was clear that eating and feeding the children was her priority. The fact she was committing a crime or that she might get caught seemed not to matter at all.

We followed her to the back of the store towards the bakery section. It was clear that she was going to repeat what she had done in the front of the store. I walked up, almost beside her, as if I were going to select a bread that was next to her.

‘Excuse me, are you hungry?’ I asked. I tried to say it quietly–almost in a whisper. The woman jerked her head towards me with a look of fright and as if she were preparing for a battle. I quickly held up my hand and said ‘don’t worry, I’m just concerned. All of you look very hungry.’ You could see her trying to size me up. ‘Don’t have no money,’ she rattled out as she looked back at the breads, ‘DSS (Social Services I’m sure she meant) won’t give me any cause we don’t have no address.’

I asked her where she was staying, being mindful of how cold it was outside. She said they were staying in a caravan that belonged to a friend. She and the children had come down from the Northeast a week earlier. I asked her if there were anyone else with them, trying not to ask in such a way to make her feel as if she were being interrogated. She told me they had left her partner because he was drunk all the time and they ‘had to get away.’ She said she’d never seen the sea so she thought it would be nice to come to the coast.

I asked her about Social Services and why couldn’t they offer her any help. I tried to say it in a way that she wouldn't feel I was trying to grill her. She said that they would if she had a ‘proper’ place to stay, but because she didn’t there was nothing they could do.

I can understand how government rules and regulations can often create a ‘Catch 22’ and perhaps this is one of those times. I’m not certain.

I told her my name and said that I felt the most important thing to do right now is to get some food for all of them. I asked if she had anything to cook with. She said there was a cooker, but there wasn’t any gas for it. It needed a new bottle. That led me to ask about heat. Yes, there was an electric oil heater that they used and because the caravan was small it ‘worked good.’

I asked her what she thought they needed most for tonight. She said they all liked ‘crisps.’ That wasn’t quite what I had in mind, so I thought we’d better help the process a little. As we were standing there at the moment, I picked up the bread at which she had been gazing.

We collected some oranges, bananas, a mild cheese, milk, a litre of orange juice, a box of tea, bag of sugar, corn flakes, butter, sliced ham, some (more) plums and a few other items. I also discreetly collected the empty sandwich container, so that we could pay for it and told the till clerk that ‘we had eaten one of the plums…sorry,’ and smiled at her. I don’t know whether she adjusted the price for that or just accepted it as a case of a consumer practicing a bit of quality control in the produce section.

I know where the caravan park is they’re staying in and I’ll go by tomorrow to see if I can get a better grip on the situation.

Situations such as this always remind me that if you want to help people in crisis, those who are suffering, or those who are less fortunate than yourself, you needn’t look any further than your own community.

It Costs Nothing to Care

Suffer The Children

Have I told You Lately That I Love You?

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