Friday, 27 July 2007

Butlin's for Quakers

posted by kathy

I've just realised that Summer Gathering is a sort of Quaker Butlin's. Not the new Butlin's, where people do their own thing, but the old-style Butlin's, complete with organised activities, plenty for children and a full-time entertainments team. Summer Gathering has its own redcoats, though there are differences. For a start, they don't wear red coats but blue scarves - unless they're working with the children, in which case the scarves are orange. Quite often the Summer Gathering entertainments team will suggest a period of silence. So far as I know, Butlin's never provided that. Butlin's redcoats are employees. Ours, known as the "core team", are hard-working volunteers.

There aren't quite wall-to-wall entertainments and activities but sometimes it feels like that, especially when there's a hilly campus to cross. The marquee hosts events which range from Meeting for Worship to the end of Gathering ceilidh. There's community singing, talks and an evening when Quaker groups can lay out their wares and talk about their activities.

We also have small base groups, although I've mostly given mine a miss. I got into the swing of Summer Gathering too late. Events meant that I had to bring some work with me and that ate into my time. I didn't get much chance for informal chats either, which was a shame. Still, the talks I've attended have been good, even if I found myself too tired for the final Meeting for Worship. (Well, I expect there'll be an epilogue after the ceilidh.)

I did get to the Leaveners' production of George and the Chocolate Factory, after a Friend in my flat got a ticket for me. And I decided I ought to go to some of the activity sessions. After playing safe by choosing poetry, I decided to "live adventurously" by trying art and handbell ringing. These may not be activities I'll try again, but I found them absorbing and am glad to have had a go.

There's a Quaker bookstall and a fair trade stall in one of the university buildings. I spent a lot of time wandering round but didn't buy anything. I would have done, but fairtrade orange juice ran out on day 2. And there are all kinds of events in seminar rooms and lecture theatres. For the duration of Gathering, rooms were renames after fruits or vegetables, according to which building they were in. This caused a great deal of confusion. "But tomatoes aren't vegetables - they're fruit," people complained until the daily bulletin issued a firm announcement that, for the duration of the Gathering, tomatoes were defined as veg. Meanwhile a group of dissidents stood round grumbling that bananas weren't fruit or vegetables but, properly speaking, herbs. Fortunately the "bananas are herbs" lobby didn't go quite so far as to demand a new building.

As it all comes to an end, I realise I've missed most of it. I wish I'd gone to Faslane (Butlin's holiday camps don't offer jolly holiday protests) or to see New Lanark on the excursions day, but I didn't book, thinking there might be a chance when I got here. In the end I was just too tired.

Most people look tired by now, though children are bounding with energy. Teenagers struggle to stay awake from breakfast till after midnight, making the most of time with one another. Friendship bracelets are everywhere and much music is made. Activity holidays are hard work. I didn't have much energy when I arrived. Still, the campus is lovely, I've met some old friends (too briefly) and heard words that will stay with me for a long time. Nor shall I forget the kindness of the university staff, which went far beyond their terms of employment. I think that is enough.

Ordinary people

posted by kathy There's a myth that Quakers are extraordinary people.

I'm coming to think that they are actually very ordinary - but some do extraordinary things.

The young man and woman giving the George Gorman lecture (regularly given by young Friends) described a life that was in many respects ordinary. He works for a charity. She teaches in a primary school. These are useful jobs but not unusual. Yet within the space of three weeks he had been deported from two countries, Israel and Russia. Presumably they were suspicious of this young English Quaker because the charity he works for is Islamic Relief. He was aware that his experience was not exceptional - he met others being detained in the Moscow holding cell - and that he was in some ways lucky. People knew where he was and would check on his safety.

An older woman spoke yesterday about her experiences as a volunteer in a Palestinian village. She was there for three months. Her job involved recording what happened as the village farmers, who were Muslim, attempted to reach their fields and olive groves beyond the Separation Wall. They would be stopped at checkpoints and many would be turned away. 75% of their lands are beyond the Separation Wall. Her work also entailed being prepared to defuse conflict non-violently if that seemed necessary. What she had done took courage - but she looked like any woman you might meet in the post office or supermarket queue.

These were not exceptional people but people who took an exceptional path. They tried to see the humanity of immigration officials, prison guards and young Israeli soldiers (just out of school, we were told, and scared of the "terrorist" olive famers). They looked for and found humanity and courage elsewhere - as in the Israeli peace activists who came to harvest the olives for the Palestinian farmers denied access to their groves and livelihood.

We heard too of surprising encounters. Arrested demonstrators at Faslane sat in a police van, glad to be out of the rain. They discussed their plans for the evening. One wanted to see the Michael Moore film Farenheit 911. Another, who had seen the film, was about to embark on an account when the policeman guarding them intervened. "Don't talk about that here," he said. "You'll spoil it for me. I'm going to see it tonight."

None of the Quakers was arrested at Wednesday's Meeting for Worship at Faslane, although some Japanese protestors were taken into custody for their protest. Two coachloads of Quakers - old and young - went to take part in that Meeting. I heard about it from a young Friend who found it a special occasion. That's what she chose to do as her excursion on the free day for fun.

If I'm right - if these are ordinary people who manage to do extraordinary things - that raises a question for me too. I'm asked not only "What canst thou say?" but "What canst thou do?"

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Up north

posted by kathy

Some Beeston Quakers are staying at Summer Gathering, in the shadow of the hills on a campus around a loch on the campus of Stirling University. About 700 Friends have turned up.

The marquee is the centre of main events, but Quakers spread out over the campus, meeting one another, rabbits, swans, cygnets etc. Some Quakers smile a lot and others are irritable. The smiley Quakers smile at the irritable ones and the irritable ones find the smiles particularly irritating. However, Gathering seems more harmonious - more gathered - than when it began, despite communal living, compulsory niceness and shared kitchens.

More posts will follow later, but readers may like to access some of the on-line material - additions are promised. Click HERE for the wesbite.

Stirling is sunnier than Beeston, but torrential downpours occur from time to time to ensure that everyone up north has the experience of being soaked to the skin. I suppose it helps induce a feeling of solidarity with flood victims.

Further posts about Summer Gathering may follow.

Meanwhile, for anyone feeling the need, here is a picture of some water.

Friday, 20 July 2007

August holiday

posted by Kathy

As usual, there won't be any Meeting for Worship at the Day Centre in August. This gives regular attenders the chance to spend weeks or weekends away or even, of they wish, to explore other Meetings. While Meeting has become a bit bigger lately, it still depends on a few people (especially Martin) who open up, set the rooms up, prepare drinks, etc.

If you want to find another Meeting for Worship, you can follow this link on the Britain Yearly Meeting website. The nearest Meetings to Beeston are in Nottingham, Derby and Loughborough. It's sensible to ring any Meeting before turning up at this time of year as arrangements do change.

It would be good if people from Beeston Meeting used the blog to keep in touch. It's easy to post a comment. If you prefer you may e-mail me or Rhiannon so that we can post longer entries - and even jpgs and youtube videos - on the blog.

Henry has his birthday celebrations this weekend - so Happy Birthday, Henry, and have a good (non-violent) water-fight.

Meanwhile, here's a seasonal singalong opportunity, chosen in honour of the public transport devotees among you. (Drivers - please note that this video is not provided for instruction or emulation.)

And if you survived that, here are some good wishes for anyone travelling overseas.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

News from Nottingham (and Watford)

posted by Rhiannon

(Happy Birthday, Tony! I hope Kathy made sure you got your favourite biscuits on Sunday.)

It's nice to be back in Watford, though I miss Nottingham and especially Beeston; but at least I get to see my Watford friends (and Friends). Exciting things are afoot in Watford's plans for National Quaker Week, but I don't expect you to care so much about those as about Nottingham's plans-- and that's really why I am here.

I come to bring you a little news of Quaker Quest. You may remember Nigel visiting us at Beeston, and you may even have known that I went to be meeting at Nottingham's Meeting House on the last Wednesday of term, to find out more about Quaker Quest. Nottingham hope to start running Quaker Quest on the Wednesday of National Quaker Week.

If you haven't heard of it, the website is . If you can't be bothered to read that, the basic idea is to run a repeating series of weekly meetings for enquirers, or Questers; at each, there is food to break the ice, a panel of three speakers who each give their personal experience of some Quaker topic, time for discussion, and a brief Meeting for Worship.

As you can imagine, this sort of outreach requires not only speakers, co-ordinators, and welcomers, but help with food, publicity, etc. If anyone is willing to help, has ideas about how we could reach people in Beeston-- anything from putting leaflets through doors upwards-- I'm sure it would be welcome.

See also where there is some more information about our cycle of Quaker Quest events.

Furthermore, what will Beeston Meeting do for Quaker Week? It could be as simple as resolving to each wear our Quaker badges all week and be ready to answer questions, or perhaps each try and invite someone to come to Meeting on one of the two Sundays. Every little helps, as we used to say before Tesco's pinched it.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007


posted by Kathy

Tony achieved his first half-century today.

Congratulations - and may there be many more.

(Sorry I couldn't find a better photo.)

I suspect early Quakers didn't celebrate birthdays. But Tony does and so do I.