Wow! What an utterly brilliant weekend that was. It was totally worth the three trains plus one looooong taxi which it took (the ride was long, not the taxi: Quakers don’t go in for stretch limos) to get me to this 13th century manor house and Quaker conference centre slap-bang in the middle of absolutely nowhere at all. The original building is awesome; much like our Guildhall in Leicester, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. There’s also a village with a proper pub, of which more later.
I arrived in mighty, mighty Didcot (see previous post)
in time for tea on the lawn; then after dinner we had our first session of introduction plus meeting for worship. Meetings are always silent unless someone speaks – I guess that could describe any meeting, ho ho, but silence is generally the rule rather than the exception. You sit and discern whether or not to speak and unless something grabs you and you have to say it, you don’t. Unfortunately I was so knackered during this bit that I kept dropping off, which caused my neighbour to be quite concerned about me.
The next day was just about perfect. We had sessions on Quakerism during which many of my questions were answered; a walk round the gardens with discussion, a delicious lunch, after which I went for a walk along a bridlepath. The village itself is very pretty, but the landscape around is mostly flat and arable, growing – so far as I could see – some sort of kale or broccoli. I came back and went to sleep until dinner. Then after dinner we had a bring and share talent show during which I did my now-famous poem, ‘Spike’. This went down so well that practically everybody asked for a copy. And then the pub! The darkness was so thick that we needed torches, and the stars were as thick as the darkness. The pub turned out to be a proper traditional English hostelry serving Brakspear’s and a small range of others – though sadly the advertised Bank’s mild wasn’t on. The Brakspear’s bitter was excellent though.
I sat next to one of the course leaders. He was from Holyhead though he now lived in London.
‘I grew up in a hotel,’ he said. ‘My parents ran a place in Holyhead.’
‘I’m not going to say the words Fawlty Towers,’ I quipped.
‘I thought Fawlty Towers was a documentary,’ he said – and I laughed, but it turned out he was serious. At eight years old, he actually did think FT was a documentary!
‘We even had a Major,’ he said. ‘Except that he was a Colonel.’ And he told me how one day, he and his brother came home from school to find the Colonel upside-down and asleep on the stairs. A family was due to arrive very soon, so they had to drag him downstairs and put him in a side-room out of the way so nobody saw him.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
On Sunday I considered more seriously whether I want to become a Quaker. And I do. And today I have written a letter to our meeting to apply for membership. I feel a sense of rightness about it that I haven’t felt about anything else – not for a long time.
And I’m happy!