“Life is short. Live it up.”
That was Nikita Khruschev’s best-known aphorism and my starter for ten last week when I attended the second Conversation Dinner at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales.
The concept, modelled on a project from the School of Life, is simple: three courses, changing table after each, and a set of pre-compilled questions to accompany each course and inspire discourse.
It is, according to the residential library’s warden Peter Frances, “An attempt to remember the lost art of conversation.”
Over chilled gazpacho, Robert, just retired, lead the charge on the issue of ‘What is the best age to be and why?’ When I revealed to the all-boys table my concerns about an upcoming and somewhat landmark birthday, he came over all paternal. I was quite touched.
I also learnt that a man is not considered an independent man until the age of 55 in Japan. So 15 years to go.
The mains of grilled sea bass and new potatoes was served with a frisson of theology thanks to my companions on the next table.
Debating ‘If you could travel in time, where would you go?’, Andrew, a vicar from The Wirral, was keen to go back and see Jesus preach to satisfy his own scepticism.
I was tempted to do the back-to-the-future routine but my companions were less sure.
“What if,” says theology lecturer, Geoff, “you find your own tombstone.”
The more reserved desert-course table pondered the limits of compassion over lemon syllabub. Could we feel compassion for Colonel Gaddafi? We couldn’t agree.
But Barbara did chip in that, “No matter where you are in the world, just like this dinner, everyone brings something to the table.”
By the time we retired for coffee to the resident’s lounge, a statue of Mr Gladstone himself looking around the room approvingly, the conversation was flowing freely.
We had covered why Facebook is a curse, why Belfast is the place to be next April (check the reference, Titanic fans) and why my golden period is still ahead – not behind me.
Most of all, I’d been amazed at how easily people opened up, divulged their inner-most thoughts and spilled the beans about their personal circumstances to a group of complete strangers. I couldn’t help but join in.
As I headed off into the North Wales night, I vowed to make Khruschev’s words my new mantra.
News of forthcoming dinners will be posted here.
Details of newly refurbished accommodation here.