Togs. Testing continental quilts. Sleeping bags that go up Everest and or keep soldiers from dying in cold rooms in Salford at minus 40. How to make soft rain. The 3 day week. I got good at table tennis and badminton. My gap year in a physics lab couldn’t end soon enough.
Thursday October 10th 1974 started early. At 18 years and 2 months I was eager to vote in the general election for the first time. And I had to get from Manchester to Oxford by the afternoon. My parents drove me, along with my first girlfriend. ‘When Will I See You Again’ by the Three Degrees was about to be replaced by ‘Band On The Run’. It took a while to get to Oxford, with no M40 from the north.
The M40 had brought me to that day. The previous September a school friend and I had hitched down to see Imperial College in London and then on to Oxford. UCAS forms beckoned. We spent the morning wandering round Imperial. Not a word was spoken. It was as if the music really had died. We didn’t stay long and hitched successfully out as far as High Wycombe. A kind gent in a Ford Cortina went out of his way to drop us right on the A40. Unfortunately the M40 had opened that week. We spent the hot afternoon walking the 10 miles to Stokenchurch before seeing traffic again. We must have looked bedraggled because our next lift dropped us on the High Street just by Brasenose, the destination suggested by my French teacher. The concept of colleges did not mean much to us then.
We sheepishly crept through the gate and peered through the lodge window. The scout took one look at us. “Come in here, you look like you need a cup of tea!”. The tea and biscuits were duly produced, a B&B was phoned and sorted.
Then the college chaplain arrived. “They don’t need tea, they need a beer! Come with me!” We were marched across the High to the Bear and its many ties. Hours later we were in his rooms with some American tourists in tow. Tea and crumpets to end the day. Waking to church bells galore the next morning, I don’t remember touring the college or checking any sort of academic detail. I was sold. So I worked hard that autumn. Eventually a telegram had arrived when I got home just before Christmas. And the rest, as they say, is history. Well physics in my case.
30 years later, I took my eldest daughters for a tour of the college. My eldest was thinking of applying. As we stood in the lodge, looking at pinned up pictures, the porter gave a knowing look. ‘Were you here?’. Ten minutes later, as we were walking round the quads, the Bursar approached us, keys in hand. “Would your daughters like to see your old rooms on staircase 10?
Only now, as I write this, do I recognise where I learned a certain belief. It means that invites to our parties, drinks, dinners, bonfires and events of all kinds are headed with “Practise hospitality”. Siobhan and I used this verse at our wedding:
Romans 12, verses 9 to 13: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
I watched ‘The Apprentice” just after I wrote this. It was all that is bad in management: bullying, not listening, hierarchy. Yesterday’s behaviours that today’s entrepreneurs worth their salt would not contemplate, let alone allow into their ideas and businesses. I realised it is not what I believe in. And why I’d been lucky to learn why at a tender age.
So as you approach the season of good cheer, take a look at the behaviours you display to your colleagues, your bosses, your peers, your reports. Do you practise hospitality?