Saturday, March 27, 2010

Trustees eat posh lunch

I'm not sure what my telling of this adventure will do for the Trust's reputation, or more widely for the fortunes of British Buddhism, or for the hapless kitchen staff at the Canteen, but I will report it nonetheless. It may be turn out to be an appropriate coda to the business of the Buddhist Hospice Trust, only time will tell.

The trustees took lunch together at one of Britain's reputedly finest and most voguish 'eateries', by all accounts the acme of Traditional English Food, the Canteen at the South Bank Centre.

This meal was taken during an interval in our trustees' meeting, which we held in the South Bank Centre itself, on what is probably called the mezzanine floor of the Royal Festival Hall: it's upstairs from the Thames embankment, and its pretty huge, with lots of seating around tables, some sofas, and no officials to hurry one on, or to ask why one is loitering with apparant business intent. The Canteen is on the level below.

We chose to hold our meeting at the South Bank Centre (it was Bodhiprem's idea) because we've noticed a recent social trend amongst purposive-looking types with laptops, Blackberries and netbooks, to hold quite loud conferences in coffee-bars and pubs; so we decided to do the same, save ourselves the cost of a poky room in a conventional venue (like Friends House), and - with the money saved - treat ourselves to a working lunch, in company with the world's army of lobbyists and corporate duty-men and -women, and with our precepts and principles intact.

Lunch was served in what I might rather ungratefully describe a a tarted-up canteen, styled (I imagine) on a recollection of old-time workers' canteens in someone's modern mind, or possibly reproduced from sepia photographs of Longbridge Motor Works canteen circa 1940, with benches rather than tables, and narrow bench-seats onto which customers slide their artisanal behinds to eat the authentically-crafted, workmanlike fare provided.

This comprised a variety of nostalgic items, notably a range of pies, looking very pie-like in a retro kind of way, piled up in neat stacks in a heated cabinet. Fish and chips were also on the menu. None of these items were particularly cheap.

I had the fish and chips, with tartare sauce; at £10.75 I thought it expensive. The haddock was over-cooked in batter, dark and very dry. Cook had served me two fillets; the second was, I think, a sort of conciliatory gesture, a mute apology for the state of the pair. One curled up and almost scorched fish was more than enough, my eating of it was tokenistic, so as not to seem churlish; after all it was being paid for by voluntary donations from Trust supporters.

The chips were similarly dry and unappetising. A kind of karmic gloom hung over my meal; however, fellow trustees seemed satisfied with the fare offered, and plates were emptied, including my left-overs. This generosity was, I thought, a touching, and an intimate gesture by the others. It redeemed the event for me. Service was rather nice, however, and the late arrival of another diner at a bench ordered for four was handled cheerfully, perhaps because six buttocks will just about squeeze on to a bench made for four.

The meeting was generally counted a success. We agreed unanimously to invite three talented, enthusiastic Trust supporters to become trustees: Tony Webster, of Association La Porte Ouverte in Civray, France; Arati Banerjea, of Golders Green in London; and Willemien Hoogendoorn, of Beckton, also in London.

The Trust has continued to garner new support over the past twelve months, and to consolidate this we have agreed to publish an electronically distributed newsletter, with 'hard' copies for the minority of supporters who don't have, or don't want, Internet access and email. The newsletter will be titled "The Buddhist Hospice Trust Newsletter", and will be published in colour using Adobe Acrobat's .pdf format, at no charge.

The newsletter will be a platform for advertising Trust events, for keeping people in touch with Trust affairs and with each other, to encourage credit and debit card donations (but also cheques for as long as these are still current), and for any other worthwhile purposes. It will not carry articles, but may well supply links to such.

We've agreed, for the time being, to hold one annual members' convention. There are no plans at present for further public meetings or lectures, or for any meetings along "Inner Work School" lines. Trustees and supporters will be urged to "put themselves about" in their localities, to raise the Trust's profile; to publicise its philosophy, its approach, and its aim to "be present, bear witness, and befriend" people in need - from a Buddhist position, whatever that need may be, and whoever expresses it.

Minutes of the meeting are available to supporters on application to me, Peter. I would appreciate your sending me a stamped addressed envelope if you want them.

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