Every time I see the sea I think of this song (and just because I like you I have thrown some others in).
I love looking out to sea and doing nothing. I don’t often make the time, but I am anticipating this weekend being sat on a windswept rock in the horizontal rain doing precisely that.
It looks idyllic doesn’t it: the sunshine, the sea, the puffins…
Now imagine the damp, the rain and the inclement weather of the average British Spring. Multiply that by North Scotland, the surrounding Atlantic gales that are magnified by being on an island, no shelter apart from that you bring with you and no food apart from that which you bring with you.
I won’t say anything about toilets apart from ‘trowel’…
Sometimes when people use the word ‘retreat’, it conjures up an image of warmth, cozy firesides, snug beds and contemplation that nudges into dreamless sleep.
Tomorrow I make the long journey up North to meet up with a friend, a few others I know a bit and some I have never met. The day after, 12 of us will sail from a small port to Lunga. For 48 hours we will survive, share stories, pray, sit in silence, drink whisky and swear a lot. I last did this with this group 2 years ago.
It would be much easier to stay at home I guess, but I would never have this experience otherwise. Sometimes you have to travel somewhere to find something that you thought you had lost.
…and on that same course, mention was made of the importance of volunteering when people retire: as a way to keep mentally alert, to do something, to give something back and to structure the long days.
As the person learning how to deliver the course, I became a course member for this section. The question was put to the people there: how many of us have volunteered? Less than a third stuck their hands up.
Then another question: how many volunteer now? And I think there were only a couple of us. The people on the course were good, dedicated people who have given their working lives for those on the edge.
That is not meant to be a boast, but I was suprised- I thought that loads of people volunteered: maybe they do, or maybe people of working age do not volunteer anymore. Perhaps the sample size was unrepresentative. Perhaps too, the sheer exhaustion of working in a stressful situation reduces the energy to offer anything else.
Either way, it is somewhat sobering: does the pattern of family life, working life or families/friends spread across the country militate in getting involved in anything apart from as a consumer? Or have we as a culture become more concerned with our own world: our ever expanding needs/desires militate against active involvement in anything outside our own circle?
I suspect in the same period, that charitable giving has risen; maybe it is easier to give money than be involved.
Retirement for me is 16 years and 10 months away. I am not counting: I enjoy what I do and feel energised- besides which; people who retire tend to enjoy it more if they have liked what they last worked at.
The only reason I say that is that I have started to lead my Trust’s retirement course; it is put on 5 or so times a year.
The first one was a real shock: a good proportion of the people in the room were within 3 years of my age. Most of that was due to the peculiarities of a pension scheme that has now changed, but nonetheless it was unsettling: I am getting old.
This, of course is a given: from the day that you are born, you age. However, it is a shock to find that some-albeit a minority- of the same age and cultural background are beginning to retire.
And suddenly; if that illusion was not already shattered, I realise that I am old…
The days after a play are a come down:
-You have prepared, rehearsed and used every spare moment to try and memorise a complex script.
-You have used every ounce of your limited ability to try and imbue it with some feeling and subtlety.
-You have performed; your adrenaline has surged and then fallen repeatedly.
-You have luxuriated in a feeling of ‘well done’ and agonised unnecessarily when you have felt things have not gone so well.
-You have worked with a group of people over weeks & sometimes seen them more than your family.
And then it has finished…..
But this is part of life- you don’t appreciate the highs unless you hit the lows.
Overall, I had a fantastic time: another of my ‘fifty things for 50 years’ attempted, tackled something way above me, got fantastic support from a group of people and enjoyed myself so much. Plus I am left with a feeling of intellectual challenge: I understood yet didn’t understand a richly complex play.
I am such a luvvie…
Sometimes only Wendell Berry will do…
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration, work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
The unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
Out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
Someone who is a chaplain told me this would happen: the deliberations of your denomination will now seem like another country.
It has happened: I should have been at a Methodist Synod today, but I have a dispensation (an archaic term: as a minister you have to request one to be allowed not to go. Yes: you may have picked up a soupcon of a hint of over paternalism there) not to be there.
Eventually- in September- I will have to go again.. It will be 2 years since I have been to one. By that time the affairs of my denomination will seem like like a fast fading dot in my rear view mirror.
Do I miss it? No; I never really ‘got’ Synods. I could get the idea of collegiality and shared purpose, but I increasingly did not like the idea of over long meetings, full of words in an airless room…. on a Saturday…. coupled with a sense that when things got tough the perception that the structures did not help or protect me. This leaves me with a psychological hurdle to climb when I next have to go into a Synod.
What keeps me ‘Methodist’ then?
-The number of faithful ministers who keep hope and love alive to their church and community- I meet many of them in the job I do: the world needs them.
-The loving and faithful members of the church I go to… they stood by us and gave us support & hope. They have an impact in their community far beyond their size.
-The feeling I get when I phone up someone by the name ‘Methodist’ (or any other church really) in my current job. I know by and large that they will go beyond normal human volunteering and care.
-The number of ministers in a closed Facebook Group-which I guess is my de facto ‘staff meeting’- who are honest, real and lovely.
That’s just a few really, but as for the formal structures: well, you guess…
After this week I can go back to listening to music and not endless reruns of the dialogue of ‘Inspector Hound’.
The only music I have listened to for light relief is ‘The Queen is Dead’ (there is something deeply Freudian about a republican listening to that this week).
I had a track from it last week. This is this week’s track: a kind of wonky self aggrandising nod to my pantomime career. I also think about this track, every time I make the long journey to Manchester and watch a gig at the Student’s Union and look up at the vast bulk of the Church of the Holy Name…
One of the ‘fifty things for 50 years’ (a list of around 50 things that I wanted to do in the year before and the year after 50- the key thing is that they had to cost nothing/very little. Any fool can spend money on an experience and call it ‘lifechanging) I wanted to have a go at was acting.
For the last 6 years I have done the village pantomime; specialising in comedy transvestites. This time I wanted to have a bash at something ‘above’ me: something complex. A friend said that I was ‘courageous and adventurous’: I am not- just stupid and beginning to think that my 50s are a chance to try new things and maybe fail in the process.
So I auditioned and got into the above play. It is complex and I’m not sure if I’ve got it (or remember and deliver lines with enough conviction), but I am enjoying the process.
Of course the acid test is performing it in front of an audience. That happens tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at the village hall at 7.30. Tickets still available.
I’ll be the middle aged, self obsessed, philanderer at the front…