Friday, September 26, 2008

My trip to Whitby

We were staying at a conference centre called Sneaton Castle, set high above the town of Whitby, where we had met before in 2005. It was good for once to be returning to a place we knew, as we usually go somewhere different each year, in order to move around the country for the benefit of our countrywide members. Well! When I go on these annual trips with my Growing Old Disgracefully friends, the expectation is usually fun and frolics all round. But this time I worked quite hard for much of the time, and have continued to do so since coming home a week ago, which is why I have only just got round to posting.

What we usually do on the first evening is have an introductory presentation from the year's organising team, preferably humorous, and then some sort of 'getting to know you' activity for mixing first-timers with old-timers. The following morning there are two workshop sessions, before and after coffee, with a choice of several workshops in each session. These are delivered by members themselves, and may be about almost anything. This year the choice was between reading, dancing, writing, fun and games, and such serious questions as "Has embarrassment changed your life?", "Who and where do you think you are?", and "Can we really grow old disgracefully with deteriorating health?" Each person gets to do one in each session, and there were at least four that I would have enjoyed doing.

However, I am currently committed to a group which is trying to design a new publicity leaflet for our Network, and because this was an urgent job, we decided to use one of the sessions to start work on this project. It is just the sort of project I enjoy too, but compared with the other things on offer it was definitely 'work', because it has to be right, and done on time. We made good progress but decided we would probably need another session next day.

There was a coach excursion in the afternoon, which I did not go on, as coach travel makes me feel sick. So I spent much of the time working on my own on some new text for the leaflet which I wrote out by hand. This found approval and I was asked if I could type it up on a friend's laptop, as she wasn't a touch typist, and we could then get it copied and circulate it to the other group members. I've never used a laptop, but there was a mouse fortunately, and after a quick breakfast next day we sat down together and got the typing done, before our Annual Business Meeting started at 9.45 am.

I had offered to scribe for this meeting for a friend who is very deaf. This is something I have never done before and it was an interesting new discipline. When I take notes for myself they are always sprinkled with shorthand, but of course I had to write all in longhand, on my knee, so that she could read it as we went along. It requires considerable focus and an untiring wrist, and you mustn't drop off in the middle if it gets boring! It is good to have a new challenge of that sort.

The afternoon was free, and I had plans to go off by myself on a sort of local pilgrimage, which I will tell you about in another post. But I was wanted for another leaflet meeting, and in the end I had to split my afternoon between both activities. But it did get us to the point where, after coming home, two of us could start to prepare a mockup of our new leaflet, working together by email. This afternoon it is just about ready for approval, and I hope we can both relax a bit.

On the second evening there had been an outside speaker, and on the last evening we had a wonderful singing workshop led by a professional, a smashing young woman called Beccy Owen, who is a musician, composer, singer and teacher, and works from The Sage Music Centre at Gateshead. She got all 70 of us singing in parts together, even though many of us think we can't sing; I am sure that she was so successful because of the humour she mixed in with her professional competence. Maybe, too, her success had something to do with the fact that she is used to teaching primary school children with attitude, as she told us, "and there is certainly some attitude here tonight" she said, grinning widely.

The next morning it was pack our bags, have breakfast, then a short farewell session where we sang some more with Beccy, and off home. The sun had finally decided to shine, and as I was the last to leave, I had the opportunity to sit outside the Castle, looking across a vast expanse of grass to the ruin of Whitby Abbey, and letting the beneficent beams warm my body and soothe the pain of goodbyes.

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