Tag Archives: Quakers

Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)

 

First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend

 

From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.

 

As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.

 

Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.

 

So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends

 

And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.

 

Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.

 

© Liz Gray, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, politics

Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:

http://www.clearwhitelight.org/hitch/harmless.txt

At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

Kirk out.

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, politics, radio

A Rather Whizzy Weekend

I spent a rather whizzy weekend in Leicester, buzzing there on the excellent skylink bus which gets you from a to b almost as fast as the train, thanks to intermittent stops and smug bus-lanes; then charging up to the Martyrs for Tomatoes where we eventually completed the Telegraph prize crossword and I fielded varied questions about our current status (where are we?  what are we? and most importantly, how are we?) before heading back into town, spending an hour or so at the library and succeeding in locking the toilet key inside the toilet.  The librarian smiled in a resigned sort of way, indicating that this was probably an almost daily occurrence.  After that I positively fizzled up to the Friends’ Meeting House where I was convinced that an afternoon of exciting events was scheduled to kick off at one; only to find a lonely refugee in a hat who turned out to be Ruth, my hostess for the evening.  We chatted until others arrived whereupon we learned the art of felting (I made a coaster) and heard some stories from Ruth.

Then back to hers: Ruth lives in a rather surreal building called John Woolman House (JW being an early Quaker) which is basically a row of houses all knocked into one.  It’s a bit like a friendlier version of the storage place, with rows of doors and endless corridors, but all very friendly (and Friend-ly) with a guest room which I inhabited, a wet-room with shower and bath and a gorgeous sun room where I meditated and later slept.

And god bless that woman! for she not only organised a guest room but took me out and fed me at the new-ish and delish South Indian restaurant on London Rd called Chettinad.  The thali was to die for and over its many tiny dishes we discussed past lives in India, America and various parts of Britain.  Most enjoyable.  And so to bed.

Sunday was Quaker meeting followed by Local Business Meeting where I learned about the Quaker tapestry, an artefact which bids fair to rival the Bayeux one in its scope and splendour.  And so back to Ruth’s for a rest in the gorgeous sun room, a cup of tea and then home.

I can hardly believe that was just yesterday…

Must crack on now.  I’m doing a course on Quaker history.

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering

A HemidemisemiQuaker

Years ago I used to have piano lessons: they were taken by one K. Stuart Hart, a well-known and respected figure in that part of West London.  He was a mixture of parts; a gentle teacher (‘the Amos of another age’ as one student put it) but also both staggeringly egotistical and genuinely humble.  He never told me off when I didn’t practise but just sighed in a distracted way while chain-smoking B&H as I fumbled through my latest Mozart.  I took lessons from the age of 11 (when we were given a piano) until my late teens and once showed him the sheet music for ‘Tubular Bells’ which completely baffled him.

As a teenager I used to go up to the Royal College of Music for my exams; an ornate and deeply intimidating building in central London.  The experience was made much worse by precocious three-and four-year-olds running through Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the practise pianos, so that I never managed to practise before my exam unless the room was quite empty.  The exam itself consisted, as I recall, of three prepared pieces, some aural tests (I was very good at these) and a sight-reading test which I always failed abysmally (to this day I cannot sight-read).  There were theory tests as well which were far less scary as they were written: I quite enjoyed learning music theory and I can still remember that a quaver is half a crotchet, a semiquaver half a quaver and a demi-semi-quaver half of that; after which it goes quite silly and becomes a hemi-demi-semiquaver.

So OH and I were joking that, since he comes to Quaker meeting about half the time, that makes him a semiQuaker.  If he came once a month he’d be a demi-semiQuaker and to be a hemi-demi-semiQuaker I guess he’d have to come once every two months.

Is that right?

Have a good week,

Kirk out

5 Comments

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, The madness of Mark

I am Me and You are He and We are She and We are All Together…

The weirdest thing happens on the computer when Thing and I try to comment on other people’s blogs.  For some reason it’s always signed in to his account when I comment, and to my account when he comments.  This is even after I’ve gone to wordpress and signed in on my own account and then hunted up the blog on which I wish to comment.  It always does that highly irritating little jiggle which only wordpress things do.  Other accounts are content with a wiggly red line or an empty space or a little error message – but no! that’s not good enough for wordpress.  It has to do a little jiggle from side to side so that you can’t ignore it.  I’ve come to hate that little jiggle – and unless I’m on the tablet, I’ve given up commenting on other people’s blogs.  So, to my latest follower, sheislove11, I send this message:

I liked your post although when you said you made water in the coffee pot I thought for a moment you’d peed in it!

And here’s the post I commented on – or rather, failed to comment on thanks to wordpress being so BLOODY STUPID!!!

Deep calming breaths.  Deep calming breaths…

https://theycallherloveblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/hello-monday/

If you follow my blog I always take a look at yours and sometimes follow you as well.  My daughter has started her own blog lately, and it features a banner created by my son.  He has agreed to do one for me, although he seems to be a while getting around to it.  Here’s Holly’s blog anyway.  In this post she has put a very short story and asked for comments, so get over there and get commenting:

https://wordforwardblog.wordpress.com

The REALLY annoying thing about commenting on blogs is that it tells me I’m commenting as Sarada Gray and when I post the comment it says I’m posting as zerothly.  Which I’m NOT!!!

Aaanyway, Holly, since I can’t post a comment there I’ll post it here.  I basically agree with the other comment, in that the third paragraph is the best.  In the first two you should show more and tell less and maybe connect the grease in the cafe with the grease in her hair.  I love the use of the word ‘shrapnel’ though – it suggests that her life is a battle.

Went to ‘You and Me’ friendship group at the Martyrs today and gave a talk on Quakerism.  It was very well-received and I enjoyed giving it.  I talked about my journey from a red-brick vicarage in Edmonton, round the terrible North Circular to Hounslow, about going to church three times a day on a Sunday, about to-ing and fro-ing when the church went all evangelical and finally finding my way into Quakerism.  Ruth from the Quaker meeting came along to support and add information and the audience seemed greatly interested.

Which was nice.

Happy Monday, like the woman says.

Kirk out

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, short stories, Uncategorized

Quaking in the Country

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)

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/mighty-mighty-didcot/

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!

Kirk out

2 Comments

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, poems

Not Physically at Physical Theatre, Know What I Mean, John?

Thanks to a generous Quaker, I got hold of a ticket for a filmed performance at the Phoenix, coming live from the National Theatre.  I had no idea what I was going to see as the ticket just said ‘John, 18’ which sounded like a Bible reference more than a play title; but when I got there I found it was a play called John, certificate 18* and was billed as an art-form somewhere between dance and acting known as ‘physical theatre’.  Sounds interesting, I thought, as my near-neighbour dropped into the seat next to me, having picked up the other ticket.  I had never been to any of these live filmed events, though I’ve often wanted to, so I waited with interest.  The intro was quite restful: no interminable ads, just a few trailers followed by a short talk by Nicholas Hytner, the NT director.  Not so the play.  Actors (dancers?) kind of soft-wrestled each other, tumbling over and over in weird holds and maintaining gravity-defying poses almost like a Dali sculpture.  The set was rotating and divided into quadrants each separated by a wall, through the doors of which actor-dancers tumbled, shot, slid and glided as they moved from scene to scene, tumbling, flying, holding and never resting.

The play was based on the testimony of John, a man with a troubled childhood who tumbles from an abusive childhood to a homeless hostel to prison and finally to a gay sauna where he discovers his sexuality.  And here I began to tire of it; not just because of the relentless movement which made me feel exhausted, but also because the sauna scene went on so long that it began to feel like an Alan Bennett play.  I love AB as much as the next well-meaning Guardian reader, but sometimes you get the feeling that his plays are just an excuse to get lots of gay men together so they can have sex.  And I got the same feeling with this: that the whole thing was just leading up to this long, long scene where gay men endlessly screwed each other and talked about condoms and HIV.  So I was glad when the play ended.  Still, that said and done, it was amazing to watch and I’m really pleased I got a ticket.  And a lift home from my near-neighbour, Kendall – for which relief much thanks.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/john

Kirk out

*I guess the certificate was because we were in a cinema?

Leave a comment

Filed under drama, friends and family, plays