And relax! The Druid Network 2012 Conference is over. And what a great Conference it was. There was laughter, there was tears, there were no-shows and impromptu stand-ins… and all through it I stayed mostly upright. Ok, breathe… there. This was our second Conference, after the first one in 2010 that went well despite all the last minute loss-of-organiser panic. I’m here to tell you there was just as much panic this time, and a couple of full on anxiety attacks and uncounted sleepless nights too!
The potentially worst FUBAR came about with only weeks to go, when previously confirmed caterers Green Garden Cafe dumped on us without notice. On 28th October we received an email which basically said ‘I got something else I want to do and I can’t do both’. So we’re screwed… thanks, Green Garden Cafe… I guess we ought to have read more into the fact your web site is still celebrating summer 2011. Meh. The email came up on my tablet as I was sat in Bristol International Airport, waiting with Miss for our holiday flight to Cyprus, and I can assure you I didn’t sleep much during the weeks holiday! Happily and unknown to me while I was away, Phil spent all his free time phoning around forty five or fifty catering companies until he found one that was available at such short notice. Thanks Phil!
As the weekend got closer, I sent out last minute details to the speakers and the stallholders, the facilitators and performers. Things seemed to be coming together, and by the time I hit the M5 on the way up to Redditch it was more exciting than terrifying. And then I started to get emails about norovirus – winter vomiting sickness.
Pop, there goes a stall. Oops, there’s another. Oh, Kate is unwell and won’t be able to sing with Corwen in the evening… LOL. Too late to panic… just have to roll with it. And the replacement caterers haven’t arrived yet!
And then the day dawned and the ‘verse smiled on a Centre replete with inviting window posters and banners telling the West Midlands that ‘here there be Druids’ and come on in! And they did… but none of them were the caterers… so I stood up and smiled and began the welcome waffle. Hello everyone; free tea and coffee until the kitchens open. And then a couple of extra stalls miraculously appeared too! Game on.
Nimue Brown began the talks, and took us on an entertaining journey into the history of the end of history – just how often the end of times has been predicted, and how this Decembers Mayan Misinterpretation is unlikely to be the one either. She used this to discuss the ancestors and how we all become ancestors in one way or another (even without progeny) and therefore ought to consider how we live in those terms. Nimue and her artist husband Tom launched their new graphic novel ‘Hopeless Maine’ at the Conference, and a copy ended up on my bookshelf…
Theo Wildcroft took the next slot, and gave us a perspective of the Sacred Body from a Hindu cum Yoga cum Druid viewpoint. Theo is able to bend her body into attractively impossible shapes, and did so to the bewilderment of many in the audience. Theo actually persuaded me to attend one of her early morning yoga sessions at last year’s Druid Camp… I still creak and shudder at the memory (but not as much as the others who had to watch)… but I forgive her.
By the end of Theo’s talk, the caterers had arrived and set up for lunch. As I was managing the powerpoint slides I didn’t know they were here until it was actually lunchtime, and I can tell you it felt good to see folk eating.
Emma Restall Orr took the floor after lunch and, using the Conference to launch her new book ‘The Wakeful World’, lead a discussion into the philosophy of Animism and its spiritual application, and challenged the mainstream understanding of animism as a primitive and naive religion of indigenous folk. It was an interesting thought she made, that written words in books freeze concepts, and authors do refine and expand and even change their opinions as time goes on but the book remains the same. Druidry was once an Oral tradition, and ideas must have been refined, and expanded upon, and even changed… but once we paper folk got hold of them… heh. I’ve never written a book, and perhaps that’s ‘a good thing’.
Have you picked up a sub-theme here yet? We have an all-woman conference? Ah, no, I forgot to mention the workshops in the Lounge. In the morning, Phil Ryder hosted an open discussion on the 2010 TDN charity registration and how our recognition as a religious charity has changed the perception of Druidry (and Druids) since then. He went on to reveal we were now seeking membership of the Inter Faith Network (IFN), and related some of the ongoing controversy that is creating within the establishment religions. His talking slot of 45 mins turned into a two hour discussion…
Keeping up the male side of conference, Rufus Maychild ran a sacred drumming and dance workshop in the lounge, while in the hall Penny Billington spoke about continuity and change within the Druid tradition. Penny edits the OBOD Touchstone magazine and is the author of a very fine book on Druidry.
Following another break – each speaker and workshop facilitator had a forty five minute slot and then we had a break of 45 minutes for folk to forage, network, pee and purchase – Suzanne Thomas spoke about the Mistletoe Foundation and the herb in general, as well as delighting us with photographs of a project earlier this year when she laid a patchwork knitted scarf along a quarried out landscape, reconnecting (if for only a day) two previously conjoined sites. At first it was simply odd to see, and then the actual connection with the landscape she was working with jumped out and captured the whole audience. A real joy to witness.
Lorna Smithers lead a workshop in the lounge on Poetry and the use of poems in meditation, as well as reciting some of her eco-poems and discussing poem construction.
That pretty much ended the speaking, discussion part of Conference, and everyone migrated to the Lounge to enjoy an impromtu folk club sing-around, compered by Nimue Brown, with song and words and even some delightful harp music, while we set up the hall for Paul Mitchell and Talis Kimberely. However, by the time we’d done it became clear that the hall acoustics simply weren’t working for us and we had a micro-meeting before deciding to hold all the music in the lounge, where the open mic was still going on. By now some of the folk who had long distances to travel had made a move, and so the lounge was more than adequate for the group that remained.
I don’t know when I last went to a gig where there was a knitting corner… Bardic satire, and wonderful music from Paul, Talis and Chantelle (and yes, I think we’ve got them coming to Druid Camp next summer!). What a great way to end the day.
Ok, I may have decided I’d done enough stress-bunny sobriety. Perhaps I should tell you (should I? Oh, perhaps not… Ok, yes) I was kidnapped after the talks finished, and whisked by Paul Mitchell and his gorgeous accomplices to the nearby hostelry to be fed Hobgoblin after Hobgoblin. It all went a little blurry after that because, like the 2010 Conference, I’d not actually managed to eat anything all day other than an apple and a banana that Theo pressed upon me, and a small cup of carrot and coriander soup. Blurry, but beautiful.
So, at the end of it all, how did it go. Of course we had some inevitable SNAFU, but in comparison with the first Conference…
- The 45 min talks / 45 min breaks worked really well.
- perhaps when the hall is on break, the lounge could be in use, and vicky verky.
- The food wasn’t available all day as we’d wanted, but the queues weren’t so bad as last time.
- Someone thought there was a bit tightly packed in the lounge for the music (but everyone who was in there said there was plenty of room).
- I’ve had more than a dozen post-event congratulatory emails from folk who were glad to be there (so far) and no slaps (so far).
- If folk tell me stuff, I’ll add it here for later.
I’d promised myself, as we approached Conference 2012, that this would definitely be the last one… I didn’t need the stress… but by the end of the night the 2014 Conference was already being planned! Watch this space. Or this one.
In the morning, some of those that were left, having cleaned and cleared the Bilberry Centre, processed up into the Lickey Woods. Some of us to simply connect to the woodland and the blue sky and the golden autumn colours under a low golden Sun. Others of us to reconnect to times past, to regain what was worthwhile, and let go of that which it was needful to release.
Speaking of trees, by Nimue Brown
The grove says hello
Druids, not the ones
From before, or before then,
Hill climbing, sky smiling.
We say hello Druids.
You say hello trees.
Like we always did.
Thanks to those most excellent folk who carried so many of the necessary burdens of Conference. Ness for handling the online sales but couldn’t be there, Dave and Lorna for their door wardening skills, Phil for cleaning out the kitchen on Sunday morning despite feeling full of lurgy all weekend, and everyone who helped clean the Centre on Sunday morning and who otherwise held me in calm and confidence all through the event! Thank you, speakers and facilitators. Thank you, you served your community; you are all Druids.
Links to other reviews of the Conference… I’ll add links as I find them.