‘Light At The End of The Tunnel’: Picking Up the Thread Again, 10 Years On

I hadn’t realised the chronology until I came to title this post, which hopefully resumes our connection after a  pause which proved to be much, much longer than I’d ever expected. Life, eh?  The ‘real’ stuff which demands your attention – sometimes quite forcefully – when you may have had other plans in mind.  But, yes, here we are.  The start of 2024 finds me, in calendar terms at least, ten years on from the end of Church High.  And still standing too. Just about.  Because the saying really IS true: ‘What doesn’t break you makes you stronger’.

For anyone interested in numbers, this is actually ‘post 142’ and, I hope, now I’m hitting calmer waters, that many more will follow it.  It’s been a very long haul for me personally over the last ten years, I won’t lie, but God never promised that Life would be easy and, as anyone with a deep Faith knows, ‘The bumps are what you climb on’.

Somebody bought me Warren W. Wiersbe’s book years ago.  I’d like to say I read it at the time and found its advice helpful, but, like so many New Year Resolutions, we don’t always end up following through everything we mean to.  Life has a way of getting in the way, moving us on, perhaps to another place with very different demands on mind and time.  The title always stuck with me though. and, now I seem to be getting my ‘voice’ back, it’s a timely thought.  Because, as anyone who likes their proverbs also knows, ‘The darkest hour always comes before Dawn’ and there is always ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’.

When I created my Christmas card for 2023, I chose the last saying as part of the greeting.  It seemed very apt for ‘now’.  As some may know, my beloved Dad, John, – also an English Teacher and a writer – suffered a sudden catastrophic bleed to the brain in June 2019, ironically on the last day I was paid by GDST although I was on sick leave by then.  As we know, God can work in mysterious ways.  The way I ultimately parted company from NHSG and GDST employ was not ideal, by a long way, but, had I still been there then, I wouldn’t have been at home to take the call which let me get to Dad in time.  For that, I will be forever grateful.  But a bleed is much worse than a clot and, despite living for another three years – a testament to his amazing strength of character – Dad subsequently required 24 hour care in a nursing home.  And, naturally, I became his ‘wingman’.

What followed was a time of great richness (but also sadness too, of course) and very, very tiring – especially in the Lockdowns, the first commencing only 3 months after a long Stroke Unit stay.  No time or mind-space for blogging after that, even before it became clear that something was wrong with me more than just burnout and stress.  The smile was still there and spirit willing, but my body just ‘broke’.

Of course I knew my general health had been deteriorating for a good while, but for lots of reasons I just kept focusing on ‘keeping my chin above the water’, so to speak. But what you don’t ‘use’, you ‘lose’, as the saying goes, and during the long Lockdown I just slowly seized up, like a car engine when sugar has been introduced to its fuel tank.  A very strange state of affairs to find oneself in for someone who had always been so active.  I’d had knee issues on and off for years, which had always just ended up with physio referrals, but, by late 2020, a hip X-ray was finally suggested to ‘get the right exercises’ and the truth of things finally began to be revealed.  I eventually got my X-ray in January 2021 and severe osteoarthritis of both hips was diagnosed.  So bad, indeed, that, despite being in full Lockdown, I’d had my right hip replaced within 10 weeks, which says a lot, I know.  The left hip followed only 4 months later.  X-rays of my knees would subsequently confirm them to be just as bad.  It still amazes me.

I have been really lucky in my Surgeon – half Polish, half Italian and brought up in Middlesborough!  Our first meeting went like this: “Is that my X-ray up on your screen?”;  “Yes.  Both your hips are really bad.  And I noticed the moment you walked through the door that your left leg has started to turn out over …”; “Yes, I know that … :)”; “Let’s get you up onto table so I can check if your legs are both the same length”; “Well they certainly started out that way …” [They were].  Post examination, we continued in a similar vein: “Is this REALLY the first time this is getting looked at?”; “Yes”; [Pause to find right words], “You must have been in some discomfort for some time …?”; “Yes”; [Finally reduced to laughing], “What were you doing? Just pushing on?”; “Er, yes ..”  What can I say?  There’d been a lot else going on and I’m tough.  There’s no question I get that from my Dad.  By the time he could finally battle on no more, I was just about to have my left knee replaced, which was postponed, clearly.  Another year further on after that, all was completed.  It’s been quite some journey – and a painful and wearing one too, I won’t lie – but I am now a Bionic Woman in the bottom half of my body.  Well, you have to laugh …

And so to the Christmas card I created this year to update folk and ‘tip them the wink’ that, hopefully, I’m close to rejoining the world.  Then, all of sudden, I thought, ‘What better way to restart the blog?’

As may have been evident to some, reading between the lines,  my four years at NHSG were not easy ones and not always happy.  The things that kept me going were the girls I was teaching and, I hoped, ‘living’ the ethos I still believed in.  But, to quote yet another book title, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, and, boy, had mine kept a full count.  But I’m not alone there, I know.  As Shakespeare beautifully exemplified as outcasts begin to regroup in As You Like It, ‘Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy./ This wide and universal theatre/Presents more woeful pageants than the scene/ Wherein we play in’.  Others have had their issues too, some more damaging than others, but, luckily, we’re all made of strong stuff.  The only member of the Church High teaching staff I still meet up with is Mr Wells, though I’m in touch with others by letters, email, Christmas cards, etc.  And I maintain a strong, supportive sub-family connection with the tight group of Admin Support Staff who were the last to leave the building in 2014.

‘And then there were 3’: Lynda Lant (Science Technician) Steven Farrell (IT Manager) & Gentian Queku (Site Manager)

Perhaps it may surprise some to learn I also maintain a connection with – and value the friendship of – Hilary French, just as I do with NCHS Heads, Lesley Smith and Patricia Davies.  Hilary’s last 5 years have possibly been the most punishing of all – no pun intended.

Gifting Hilary the Church High Jubilee Book at the 2016 Alumnae Reunion.

Without her ongoing support at NHSG, I could not have continued pursuing research into the history of the Church High building and for that trust I will always remain grateful.  I’ve always proved a good judge of character, as I hope many who have known me over the years will agree, so perhaps this might provide some pause for thought in light of the events of last year.  Her own harshest critic, Hilary’s growing understanding and recognition of ‘past things’ led her recently to gift me a book she thought I “might find helpful.”  It was ‘The Body Keeps the Score’.  Her action spoke volumes, I think. For me, once body confidence is regained, ‘Roll on broader horizons!’

This post is dedicated, with grateful thanks, to my ‘Three NCHS Musketeers’, who have helped me keep on going through a difficult patch via the support they have given in their own individual ways,                     

And, of course, to the memory of another dear friend, my much-loved Dad, John George Chapman (‘JGC Braveheart’), without whom I simply would not be the person I stand as today: “RIP Dad”.

‘Time Song’: Jill Mortiboys’ Funeral, 23rd August2022

If you ask Google the question ‘What is a teacher?‘, the site Career Explorer will affirm that ‘A teacher doesn’t only teach. They also inspire and encourage their students to be their best version of themselves’.   As a teacher myself, I feel I must add at this point what all pupils will already know.  That this does not necessarily apply to all teachers.  Very sadly.  But we all know it absolutely did apply to Jill Mortiboys.

The photograph above – included by Jill’s niece Imogen in the Funeral Order of Service – would have been taken before I joined Church High School.  I like it a lot, because it perfectly captures the warm, outgoing woman who greeted me with a firm handshake when I attended for interview on Ascension Day in 1985, the School’s Centenary Year.  Ditto the inspirational Head of Dept. who guided me in my first teaching job and would become my mentor.

I’d like to think that Jill recognised a soulmate in the young Miss Chapman, but she always did see the best in everybody she met.  I owe her a lot, because she clearly saw potential in me I didn’t know was there myself, applying for the job on the back of three years coping with depression whilst at University and through my P.G.C.E.  too.  She must have fought hard for me, as, unbeknownest to me, my mental health was not the only question mark hanging over me.  The eagle-eyed Miss Davies had spotted an ankle bracelet under my tights, I later leaned.  And only certain types of women wore them!

Sarah Timney, taught by Jill in Sixth Form, recalls the impact she had on the Church High of the time: ‘What a breath of fresh air she was!’  There was no pretence about Jill.  What you saw was what you got.  She also made it easy for you to be yourself in her presence too.  You always wanted it to be the ‘best’ version of yourself, of course, but also knew that ‘all would be fine’ as long as you had tried your best.

And so we get to the nub of this particular post: to enable me to share the live video stream of Jill’s Funeral Service with you all.  It was meant to be the best footage possible to achieve, I promise you, as a fitting tribute to Jill’s ‘life well lived.’  And in a way I’m really quite proud of the finished product, because I did do it all myself.  But, despite all my preparation in advance, there were gremlins to contend with when the actual day and time arrived – not least the fact I had just had the clips removed the day before, two weeks after my left knee replacement!  Factor in also a desktop PC for some reason refusing to reveal the relevant link in Outlook at the last minute, forcing me to swap over to my iPad and film the video from its screen with a mobile phone!  I didn’t make too bad a job of it, all things considered, but I could have done without the phone battery draining 2/3 of the way through the Service, it has to be said.  Sorry.

But, determined not to be deterred, I hopped across to the nearest mains plug – fishing out a charger cable enroute across the room – and, in the end, only lost a small segment.  Luckily for me, this was not ‘original copy’ but a letter from one of Jill’s ex pupils being read out by her nephew, Richard.  I hope enough is there to glean the gist

And by the time Plan B took shape, I’d also missed the coffin’s arrival to the accompaniment of The Kinks’ lyrical, quirky ‘Time Song’.  [Click on the YouTube link I’ve just created if you want the full experience.]  Towards the end of the video stream – at an apt point in the Service, I must admit – you will meet one of my cats, Atticus Finch.  Jill would greatly approve of that!  She would also want you to be able to put a face to her dear friend and life-long soulmate, Amanda Arrowsmith, when her name is mentioned.  The picture below was taken in 2015.  Jill lost Amanda about a year and a half ago.  And it was a big loss.   Amanda’s death wasn’t COVID related, but Jill was still one of those poor people who last saw their loved ones going into an ambulance.  She rallied, of course, being the fighter she was.  I take some solace too in knowing that Jill’s last day in her own house was spent with Wimbledon on TV, listening to Test Match Special on the radio too!  That’s the Mortiboys’ full on engagement with life I knew and loved.

Imogen did really well in the send off she gave her Aunt.  It was very, very Jill.  The Service  below lasts just under 40 minutes. Simple, yet moving and profound.  Its uplifting ending was pure joy. Just like Jill.


‘This above all, to thine own self be true …’: Miss Jill Mortiboys’ Funeral Service, 23rd August 2022

Apologies to anyone living in the vicinity of East Anglia who may have been able to attend Jill’s funeral in person.  The invitation was there for all who loved her and wanted to be there for the service.  However, I am recovering from knee replacement surgery – my 3rd orthopedic surgery in 13 months – after having lost my ‘Braveheart’ Father in June, so I’m afraid I forgot about that particular possibility.  My mind was focused on ways of connecting all in spirit on the day.

I’ve kept in touch with Jill’s niece, Imogen, as she’s been planning Jill’s ‘goodbye’.  She has asked me to say a huge thank you on behalf of the family to those of you who sent a card or letter to Jill in the hospice or left a comment on the blog.  Owing to Jill passing over so quickly –  a blessing in limiting her bodily suffering from cancers in more than one place, both primary and secondaries – anything which only hit the post on the Monday following my blog post would have arrived too late for Jill.  But the family have been so supported by both the number and loving content of the cards that were sent.

I know you will be relieved to hear, however, that Jill’s pain was well managed and that she was in good spirits with long patches of lucidity, when she was able to chat and banter with her visitors.  Jill’s great niece, Poppy, who also studied English, read out favourite poems to her, the last one being Larkin’sAn Arundel Tomb’, I believe.  Poppy will either read one of Jill’s favourites in the service or a poem she has written herself for Jill.  Imogen hopes to give the eulogy and her brother, Richard, will read some words.  A close, loving family.  Jill always loved The Kinks, so their ‘Time Song’ will feature, as will a favourite literary masterpiece, E. Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat.’ 

Although I only worked side by side with Jill for just over 5 years at Church High, her effect on my life was huge, both as a friend and also as a teaching mentor.  I could not have had a better template.  Countless others who knew Miss Mortiboys will feel the same way.  Being an English teacher, it didn’t surprise me that Imogen said Jill wanted her funeral service to stay true to the King James Bible.  What I didn’t know, however, was that Jill had a Unitarian religious upbringing.  Indeed, I had to Google Unitarianism to be sure I was right in my understanding of exactly what their belief system is.

I DID have it largely pinned down, it seems: the Oneness of God; the life and teachings of Jesus as the ultimate model for living one’s own life; and the belief in Free Will.  I didn’t know about the focus on Reason and rational thought, but that certainly was VERY Jill.  It also explains why the list of influential Unitarians includes Erasmus Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton, clearly!  Interesting.  One of the most obvious examples of the oneness of God, of course, is how His energy and power is evident in the natural world.  And Jill so loved her garden and all of God’s animal beings, not least her beloved cats.

For anyone who could still get there in person, the funeral will be held at 11.30 am on Tuesday, 23rd August in the Abbey Chapel of West Suffolk Cemetery and  Crematorium, Bury St Edmunds.  It sounds a wonderful place, created to provide a natural space for families to hold a dignified service of their choice for loved ones.  The Abbey Chapel is their more modern, light and airy space with oak, upholstered chairs seating 60 people, with standing for 20 – 30.

I’m sure we’ll all be there with Jill and family in spirit (if not able to attend in person) thanks to the Service Order Imogen has kindly sent me today.  It can be viewed (or downloaded) by the link below.  The plan is for the service to be videoed.  If anyone does want to watch it back, if you tell me in a comment, I’ll try to send on a link.

Order of Service PDF

If you attended Church High after Jill left (1990) and want to know what she meant to School at the time, that year’s magazine on the Heritage Website contains two tributes to JCM.  Hard to capture such an effervescent nature in a photo, I know, but, hopefully, these images below show the dynamo we all knew as Miss J. C. Mortiboys.

And if you don’t know Philip Larkin’s ‘Arundel Tomb’ very well, its final line seems perfectly fitting here: ‘What will survive of us is love’.

‘Now Cracks A Noble Heart …..’ JCM Sad News


I’m so sorry to have to pass this news on to you all so soon after the first contact about Jill’s health, but I got a call from Imogen today.

Sadly, Jill passed away – very peacefully, I understand, with Imogen and Imogen’s brother at her bedside – at around 1.30 pm on Sunday afternoon.  She had enjoyed having the cards she received on Friday and Saturday read out to her, so she knew folk were thinking of her.  It’s just a shame the majority of people’s cards will arrive too late.  I’m sure Imogen will take great solace from your memories of Jill when this week’s cards are passed on to her by the hospice though.

The main thing, however, is that Jill is now at peace and no longer in any pain or discomfort.  I believe the funeral is likely to be live streamed so please watch this space for details when I get them.

Love and God Bless to you all.  This has all happened very quickly.

Days gone by at Church High on Tankerville Terrace.