Monday, 16 June 2014

Saturday 7th June - Our first NFWI Annual Meeting

On a soggy Saturday in June, the NFWI circus finally rolled into our very own fair city of Leeds. Yes, it was Annual Meeting time! And we were very excited because the Leeds venue meant that we had to attend really, it would have been rude not to...

The weather did let us down quite badly though; the city centre was so rain-lashed that I sort of aquaplaned more than walked across town on my way to the Leeds Arena. We didn't dry out till we got home, and so we sat there in the auditorium gently steaming off as we listened to the speakers. But never mind, I hope the thousands of WI visitors to Leeds for the day could see past the grim weather and enjoy the day and surroundings.

It was our first opportunity to participate in the biggest day on the NFWI calendar, and in some ways it wasn't what we were expecting, in a good way. There is a certain amount of formal business to get through (the presentation of reports, the debate on the resolution and voting etc) but really, the formal items on the agenda moved along quickly enough. The debate on the organ donation resolution was interesting and actually quite moving. There were many WI members who took the floor to contribute their own personal experiences with the issue of organ donation - those who had lost loved ones who then became donors, and those whose loved ones had benefited from organ donation. Of course, we had previously had our own discussions about the resolution at our meetings, but it's amazing how different the issues can look when the debate is thrown open and you hear the input of so many different members from completely different perspectives. The resolution was passed, so the NFWI has its latest campaign to add to the cannon.

The speakers on the day were excellent. A special mention must be given to the first speaker of the day, Sir Andrew Motion, the poet (Poet Laureate from 1999 - 2009), novelist and biographer. Sir Andrew - or Andy as we were calling him by the end of the day - spoke about various strands of his life and their influence on his work. He spoke about the teacher who first switched him on to poetry, some beloved poems from his youth (Larkin, Hardy), the childhood love of the countryside that has never left him and latter day travels to the Mongolian wilderness. That might all seem quite disparate, but the themes of his talk came together in a very profound and effective way, and nicely underlined the last segment of his talk on his Presidency of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. We were all rapt throughout. Sir Andrew has a very soft, slow style of delivery and pauses often, but somehow you find yourself completely absorbed in his words. So, it would be fair to say that we'd already fallen under his spell before Debbie, our President, later spotted him standing alone outside the venue waiting to leave, as we returned from our Fuji Hiro lunch. Never shy about coming forward, Debbie pounced and we had our photo opportunity with Sir Andy - and as luck would have it, we even nabbed the official event photographer who was nearby!

Andrew Motion being mobbed by a small group of Darling Roses
So, we were officially fans (/ stalkers) after our meeting, and after such a stirring speech on the importance of protecting our beautiful countryside we'd like to lend our support to the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Please read more about their work at CPRE and, even better, you can quickly provide tangible support by signing the Campaign's charter to save our countryside here.

After dwelling on Sir Andy for far too long (!), I shouldn't neglect the rest. The second speaker was Dr George McGavin, the fascinating zoologist, lecturer, explorer and presenter. Dr McGavin spoke to us about some of the highlights of his career, particularly filming documentaries such as Monkey Planet. I loved how he described his move into television - he was well into his third decade as an academic before he ditched his job as Curator at Oxford University's Museum of Natural History to embark on a new career as a TV Presenter. How's that for a second act! Dr George was highly amusing, and a very good Sean Connery impersonator.

The final guest speaker was Bill Turnbull who of course is a household name and a daily fixture on TV screens, but I have to admit I knew next to nothing about him before his talk (not being a breakfast telly watcher). Again, the NFWI had chosen well, and Bill shared lots of amusing anecdotes on everything from the perils of presenting live TV after not much sleep, to wearing a shirt that's sewn to your underpants on Strictly Come Dancing (onesie? mankini?) to the ups and downs of beekeeping.

All in all, a grand day out, but how about some female speakers next year, dear NFWI? I'll sign off with a few pictures from the day.

All rise for Jerusalem!

The NFWI Chair, Janice Langley. Seemed like a nice lady!

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