The problem about living next door to the church is that there is a lot of coming and going, people asking for food and money, choirs singing, children running around, phones ringing and it can make it difficult to concentrate. Don’t get me wrong – normally I love the sounds and the busyness but when you are trying to do some writing it can be distracting. So it seemed sensible for part of my sabbatical to come away somewhere quiet for the writing part. I’ve chosen the pieces of art I want to use in my Images of Lent project but now I have to write the meditations to go with them. (And if anyone has a good title for this book/blog thing I’m doing, please let me know.)
So after three train journeys and a taxi ride I arrived at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden (pronounced Harden) in North Wales. It is a beautiful building in a little village near Chester with the library taking up one end of it, and the rest being meeting rooms, lounge, dining room (where non-residents often come for lunch) and then the bedrooms upstairs on two levels. There are books everywhere! Heaven must be like this. Of course there is Gladstone’s own collection of books most of which are annotated in his own hand and makes for interesting browsing, but there is also an up-to-date section on Theology, History, Arts, Fiction etc.
After settling in to my room (small, trendy, Shaker-style with radio) I had a sumptuous home-made dinner and found the lounge where folk lounged around, as you do in a lounge, on comfy squishy leather chairs and sofas, reading and blethering. Over a week later I have learned there is an order for conversations with strangers. It goes like this:
- How long are you here for?
- Are you here to read or write?
- What are you reading?
- What are you writing?
- Have you been before?
- Yes, isn’t it lovely and how much weight have you put on?
People come and go, some only staying for one night, some for two or three (often a gift from children – hint, hint) and some for an intensive week. At the moment I’m the only one here for longer (12 days) although an American family have just left who come for a month every year. Everyone has a different story and it has been interesting hearing the reasons for their visit. The library is open until 10pm and you can ‘book’ your own desk by leaving your stuff on it so that’s handy. I am now tucked into a cubby hole between Feminist Theology and Theology and Culture which feels like a good place to be. Nice to have a browse when inspiration has dried up. There is an extensive section on fiction in the stacks but the lounge also has a considerable selection of fiction too and that was a bit like looking at my own bookshelves at home. But I’ve also found some new ones and some from my wishlist so I’ve enjoyed reading them when having a break from the project.
The day begins with a Eucharist at 8am in the chapel (Mon-Fri) sometimes taken by the Warden Peter Francis and sometimes by John, resident Chaplain. Then breakfast and a blether and discussion on what we plan for the day. Then into the library to whirr up our laptops and start the day. The only sounds then are footsteps, sighs, yawns, coughs, the occasional whistling hearing-aid and whispered enquiries. (And if that’s all too much noise for you then there are earplugs on the desk.) The librarians are young folk who are doing internships and they have all been lovely and helpful.
My project was to find 40 paintings for each day in Lent and to write a meditation to go with it. This writing part is taking longer than I anticipated and I’m finding I usually only manage two each day. But this is fine and there is plenty time to read either about art, theology or some fiction. And then there are the conversations. Although so far I have noticed that most people who come to libraries do tend to be somewhere on the introvert spectrum and are quite happy not to say a word other than a soft ‘Good Morning.’ They must all pray at meal times that I’m not going to bounce up and say ‘do you mind if I join you?’ I do feel a bit like Tigger here.
A walk into the village takes just a few minutes and there is the Post Office, the chemist, a coffee shop, beautician, handbag shop (never been open yet), tailor and dress shop. It’s all happening in Hawarden. But you can get a bus into Chester and I have done that. (It was lovely and busy and there were lots of shops and a cathedral AND a cathedral shop (my favourite) – bliss!)
Aha! I smell the scones so it must be coffee time. Speak later…