We were the last to arrive. We could hear voices coming from somewhere else in the house. John announced our arrival and after putting our luggage down he went looking for Mandy. The three of us stood there smiling at each other not yet having found our comfort zone.
Mandy bounded into the foyer. She looked exactly like I expected her to look but that was because we had cheated and she had friended me on Facebook the day before my departure from civilisation. She showed the three of us to our rooms and John helped us with our suitcases. We were told to meet in the lounge in 10 minutes.
1o minutes? Who does anything in 10 minutes? OK, so no long hot soak in the great big huge bath tub which could have doubled as a hot tub for 6. No splashing cold water on my face or freshening up my makeup. They were going to have to love me or leave me.
I took a quick survey of my room. The walls were a gorgeous periwinkle, cornflower blue. There were two single beds but only one of them had sheets. There were two pillows on each bed and they were huge. This is a good sign. I was slightly alarmed when I saw that the writing desk of my dreams was actually a folding table and the view of inspiration was actually out the back of the house. I had a not so lovely view of a dog run and small rubbish tip. Uh, not exactly what I expected.
I knew that I had booked late. In fact, I think I got the last spot available. Yes, I had planned this way back in April but it suddenly occurred to me when we were on holiday in Cornwall in July that I had completely failed to complete and return the booking form along with my payment. When we got home from holidays I rang Mandy in a panic and she said I could have the very last room. I knew room allocations were on a first come first serve basis and that my room would not be the one with the best view. I took solace in the fact that I had my own bath and toilet so didn’t need to share. But in that one moment, I felt a pang of disappointment.
I raced downstairs after hang up my higgly piggly wardrobe for the week thinking to myself I must have been drunk when I packed and in fact discovered I had not packed enough knickers (underwear) for the week. I was sincerely hoping no one would notice. I was nervous to meet the others. Who were they? And what were they doing here? Were they going to be authors and professionals who felt my sophomoric attempts at putting my thoughts to paper were ridiculous and more appropriate for a pre-school class? Would I be able to write anything at all?
A fire roared in the lounge where we gathered only long enough to introduce ourselves but somehow this set the scene for everything beautiful that was to follow. We settled into the big soft brown leather sofas and all of these strangers proceeded to introduce themselves with honesty and vulnerability. They opened up about why they were here and showed us a tiny glimpse inside their souls. I immediately thought this is going to be good.
We were a diverse group but similar in so many ways. Of the 12 of us, only 1 was a man, 3 were Americans (including myself although I was the only one living in the UK; the other 2 had travelled all the way from the good ole US of A to be there), we ranged in age from 41 to 81, 2 of us had lived in Colorado (me and one of the Brits). We had a painter, a geologist, a psychologist, a sociologist, a nurse, a taxi driver, a runner and a hypnotherapist. We were cat lovers and dog lovers and animal lovers. Some had no children, some had children grown and some had children growing. And whilst our groups commonalities twisted and turned the one thing we all had in common was that we wanted to write. We wanted to write like we wanted to breathe.
After a few bottles of wine and the smells from the kitchen had wafted under our noses, we were summoned to the dining room where we enjoyed the first of many down home cooked meals (in the Scottish way) courtesy of the treasured Christine and Tina. Every night, these two lovely ladies prepared a home cooked meal with tender loving care. We ate homemade soups (carrot & coconut being my personal favourite), lasagna, fish pie, chicken curry, venison and cranberry stew and steak pies. We even ventured into true Scottish territory and had ourselves some haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and creamed potatoes. We enjoyed gorgeous homemade puddings including a cheesecake that was simply out of this world.
After dinner we waddled our way back to the lounge, stoked up the fire and got ourselves cozy. If you felt like reading something you had written, then you were welcome to read it out. If you wanted feedback the feedback was honest but supportive and kind. If you didn’t want to read, well, you just simply didn’t read. No pressure. No judgement. No ill will. During these sessions we laughed and we cried (just a tiny bit) but mostly we listened. We listened with the rapt attention of a mother watching her child take their first steps.
And then the magic happened.