A day after Jacqueline and I returned from Austria, it was time to leave Cambridge again. This time, it was the Council Retreat, a weekend whereby all of the available Council members get to sit down and plan and strategize the year ahead. It would run from Friday through to Sunday. So for the bulk of Friday, I was able to do something resembling the regular routine, though I came back home in the mid afternoon to find Margaret (president) and Emma (vice-president) preparing for the trip. They had hired a car, one of three making the journey to the as yet undisclosed location, and had parked it out the front of our house and were desperately trying to load it up. I threw my things in too, together with a big box of supplies, and before we knew it, we were off on our drive.
Emma was driving, with Margaret riding shotgun and hence they both had control over the music. Jacqueline and I sat crammed in the back with the supplies. We were driving for nearly two hours, partially on the motorways but eventually on some of the back roads in the Chilterns. Soon enough, it was dark, and we eventually arrived at our destination, which was in the middle of a forest near the village of Aldbury. Our accommodation for the next two nights was a National Trust bunkhouse, which had two buildings, one a common room, the other housing bunk beds. Normally, it would be used to house volunteers who were maintaining the forest, but it also gets hired out to external groups. There wasn’t a check-in, we had to instead find the gate, which wasn’t signposted, drive in, and collect the keys from an undisclosed location. There was also no phone reception, on any carrier, so there would be little to no communication with the outside world.
We unpacked the car, put everything in place and waited for the other cars to arrive. The second car was Chris’s. Cansu’s car was later still. Our food was being delivered by Tesco, but given the difficulties we had in finding the entrance, the poor delivery driver was struggling even worse. Eventually, Margaret spotted a truck parked up the road, so I ran out after it to meet the driver, who was hopelessly confused, and ushered him to the bunkhouse.
Now that we had food, it was time to start making dinner. Emma was the self-designated cook, there was a decently sized kitchen at her disposal. She made us a brocolli pasta, which was warm and well received. Margaret and I did the washing up, before settling down for the night with some group bonding. People went to bed late.
I woke up at what I thought was a reasonable time to find Jacqueline wide awake and everybody else fast asleep. We decided to go and explore a little, firstly crossing the field behind the bunkhouse and then a marked walking trail that led through the forest and past a paddock with cows in it. After half an hour, we turned back and made ourselves some breakfast. By now, the rest of the group were just starting to wake up. Meetings were scheduled to start at 10, which meant kicking some people out of bed. We powered through a large number of agenda and strategy items, before breaking off into smaller sessions after lunch with Emma and Margaret to discuss individual portfolios. That meant that there was some free time, so we went out again on a longer walk, this time a loop around a very muddy track.
Eventually, all of the agenda items were covered, and it was time to make dinner. Emma made us all some soup, and once again Margaret and I cleaned up, followed by group bonding until very late at night.
We were supposed to be checked out at ten the next morning, but given how late some people had stayed up trying to ensure that all of the supplies were used, that wasn’t really a possibility. Nevertheless, we cleaned and tidied, and made it out before lunchtime, ready for the drive back into Cambridge, and back into phone reception. There was time for a quick group photo before we left. Finally, our weekend was drawn to a close, and, after the sequence of Australia, Indy visiting, Austria and Council Retreat, life could now truly return to normal.