Action Learning last Friday

Every month or so I attend a meeting with five other people for a day in each other’s home. With two founding members still at it, the group has had slow-churning membership for 16 years. Our most recent meeting was this Friday gone, at my house. Members come from as far as Bourne End, Bucks, Redbourn, St Albans and Henlow.

We get together at 10 when we ‘check in’ bringing each other up to date with events, trends and feelings in our lives. After this comes a short period of administration, mainly to do with meeting dates (we keep a six-month future meeting-date diary), then a short tea-break. In ‘bidding time’ we sit silently to think about whether we want ‘airtime’ for anything on our minds we would like to bring to the group, sometimes just to say it to people we trust, sometimes to seek answers to problems or dilemmas. The day rolls on with people taking turns of an hour or so, being asked non-leading questions which must not contain information, advice or suggestions. At the end of each session we analyse how we did, trying not to go back into the content of the now-concluded airtime. We have a short lunch, and at the end of the day we talk about the whole-day process much as we do the individual’s airtime process, and 3 we adjourn until the next time. Each meeting someone carries out the role of ‘it’, a word that tries to nullify attempts at facilitator, leader or coach, but is necessary at times to remind us that time is finite. The backgrounds of the members are broadly in training, organisational development, social work and consultancy, and two still earn their living by some of these means. The gender split is 50/50, the average age is 64, we’re all British-born. This meeting is an Action Learning set meeting. Each of us greatly looks forward to it.

Action Learning is a worldwide activity with its roots in industrial England in the 1940s, and is a novel way of addressing problems by tapping a person’s insight and forcing self-discovered solutions rather than being supplied with answers. It is adult learning and it is social learning, and it is not everyone’s cup of tea!

For more information on Action Learning, please plug into the Internet, especially and I humbly offer my own published article for a closer look at our group in Action Learning research and Practice, Volume 9. Issue 2, 2012. For a no-cost look, here is a Word document: AL Study AL Journal Version copy

House Exchange in Flintbek, Schleswig–Holstein, 4-18 July 2013

Flintbek is a village seven miles from Kiel and ten minutes by train. We drove twelve hours door-to-door, in Germany often ninety miles an hour on the autobahn and doing the ton once or twice. Built of red-painted timber, the exchange house has spacious, well-lit rooms and cellar, surrounded on three sides with garden and lawn.

North-west of Flintbek you drive forever through flat countryside dotted with small villages, reaching Denmark in an hour or so. Schleswig–Holstein swung between disputed Danish and Germanic ownership, not fully settled until the First World War.* The German house owner is called Sven, a neighbour Ulrich Mathiessen, and bek is baek north of the border. Come to think of it, beck is also a small stream in Northern England.

Few buildings in Kiel were not destroyed by Allied bombers seeking naval bases, but the modern-feel version gave us two varied days, interesting town walking, the Nicolaikirche, a round-harbour cruise and an el cheapo university-campus lunch. In particular I liked: Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails like those we had seen in Hamburg and Dresden, taken from the ruins of its old cathedral destroyed in 1940; the U-boat at Laboe, the mouth of the North Sea­–Baltic Canal; the market at Eutin where we couldn’t find the village I knew as a soldier in 1964; Rendsburg on a Sunday, still as the grave; pretty Plön; ignoring the tourist books that ignore Neumünster.

We have tended to do less than planned and a good thing, too, for instance, today I had a quiet walk around Flintbek and we lunched al fresco at ‘home’. Our fast-growing view is that the area is not ideal for us: lots of flat-country cycling, boats, harbours, rivers, beaches, nature walking. Still, one major pleasure has been the 621 miles of distance from the horrible things in the past year at Ampthill: the appalling state the new house was left in; the debilitating slowness of the landscapers; the grind of the Christmas roof-leak’s three-month aftermath.

July 2013.

* Lord Palmerston supposedly said, ‘Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business: the Prince Consort who is dead; a German professor who has gone mad; and I who have forgotten all about it.’

A Seventy-One-Year-Old Finishes a Book

Camus once said that fiction is the lie through which we get to the truth. This morning I finished the last of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy.

Most mornings I get up at half-past seven, make a cup of tea and read for an hour. Sundays I get a bit longer because we breakfast at ten compared with weekdays when you grab your own any old time. This morning I settled into the armchair that has a view of the garden in the dying days of summer, but still with colour, especially from the deep-red cannas and yellow chrysanthemums.

Last Friends concludes the tales of Edward, Terry, and Betty who loved Terry but was married to Edward, all born in the 1920s, all having much of their adult lives in the Hong Kong or Singapore of the last days of Empire. Others as well, many others, all lively characters. Some questions tantalisingly raised in the first two books are answered, but not to sew up those threads would not reduce the pleasure of the stories, the characters and above all the writing. Towards the end, Terry, a lifelong bachelor owing to his fruitless yearning for Betty, finds a kind of late-life love with another character. The last sentences, like delicate brush-strokes, set me crying for the happiness of the ageing couple, then increasing tears for my mother who got me to read, then more for my own lost loves, then for myself. A kind of ravelled truth I suppose.