Out of the Ditch

Seeing my predicament, three strapping young men marched out of the house and down to the road. Oh, how they laughed!

“Now – put the car in first gear. When we count to three, slowly release the clutch and drive it forward, just like you’re starting on a hill.” Stuart, Andrew and Robin straddled the ditch, grabbing hold of the rear bumper. And – mercifully, all went to plan. What a relief -my rear wheels were back on tarmac. What a humiliating start to a brand new friendship! At least I didn’t have to confess to Dad. But with the lads, I never, ever lived it down…Anyway, let me explain how I found myself in this embarrassing position.


So, this was to be Home during the Uni summer holidays. Up the sandy pavement-to-be I walked, passing the dumper trucks as they whizzed back and forth up the unmade road, churning up great clouds of dust. It was 1970; Dad had had to move with his job, and he and Mum had bought a newly built house on The Glebe in the village of Stannington, Northumberland. Harrogate, our comfortably familiar home town, was now part of my past.

There was much to explore, but I felt lonely. As a Christian student, I longed to make friends with like-minded young people. The village had a parish church but it seemed a far cry from the lively fellowships I’d known at London University. I tried one or two churches in Morpeth but had similar misgivings.           

Our fellowship at Uni supported two ladies who worked amongst students in Italy. During August I was delighted to join 15 other students on a visit to a campsite they owned on a hillside in Tuscany, close to Castiglione de la Pescaia, a beautiful seaside town. And there I met a student who had contacts in Morpeth, at a Brethren assembly. He even had addresses! Sure enough, on my homecoming, I found the Michies in the phone book. A Scottish lady answered; I explained who I was, and received a kind invitation to visit the same evening. I was to look for a farmhouse set back from a lane.

Dad kindly said I could use his Ford Anglia, and off I sped. I found the lane alright, but couldn’t recognise the house. On reaching the end of the lane, I retraced my route, more slowly this time. Aha! On passing a driveway I saw a woman waving. I stopped and reversed towards the hedge so I could turn in. But then – CLUNK! I hadn’t seen the ditch…

The Michies became firm friends. I spent a lot of time at their home, often enjoying a meal there, and appreciated the warmth and laughter that filled their house. Mr and Mrs Michie were wise and kind, too. I joined their church and widened my circle of friends. ‘Progressive’ wasn’t an adjective that accurately described the ways of the Brethren. But – I found people with ‘faith stories’ to share.


The night we first met, I described to the Michies where my parents lived. “So, d’you know Castiglione, then?” asked Stuart. I was puzzled – I’d already explained my connection with the place.

“Oh yes, it’s a lovely little town,” I replied. “I don’t s’pose you’ve ever been there yourself?” It was Stuart’s turn to look puzzled. The conversation then turned in another direction…

The misunderstanding was resolved a week or two later, when I was talking to some neighbours. Just around the corner on The Glebe lived another Brethren family who belonged to an assembly in Newcastle, whom the Michies knew. Their name was – ‘Di Castiglione’! They, too, became friends, and once again I appreciated the wisdom of another Christian ‘father and mother’. But it was with 14-year-old Nigel that I formed a special bond. He seemed to have a spiritual depth and a discernment that was extraordinary for his tender age. I’m not surprised to learn that he’s gone on to become a prominent anglican vicar.

I was reminded of this unusual surname at New Wine, as we sat on the edge of our seats and lapped up the teaching and living testimonies shared by a remarkable couple, James and Lou Di Castiglione. You’ll have to wait till my next blog to find out more!

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