Manual work at Parkminster

As I mentioned before, manual work is an essential part of the balanced way of life at Parkminster. The monk has to combine some physical work with the hours of office in choir and silent prayer in the cell. In each cell there is a workshop downstairs, comprising two rooms, one of which (with a door onto a garden) is mainly used for storing and chopping wood. The second (pictured below) is used for indoor working. I know that standard equipment in many of the cells was a foot-operated lathe and perhaps some of these still survive.

When I first saw the workshop in my cell, I had the frivolous thought that if you were driven mad by the solitude, you would not be denied the equipment to express your feelings -

The next photo is something of a triumph. Not only did I get the axe-swing exactly synchronised with the camera's self-timer, I also actually hit the wood squarely. That did not by any means always happen. (The "incredible hulk" colour cast somehow got put in by a mistake when reducing the resolution in PaintShop Pro.)

The garden was a little neglected. A previous visitor had cut the grass down quite a bit with a scythe and left a pile of hay. I cleared some foliage from the doorway and other places where it was overgrown. The novice master suggested that I should burn the debris. He said that it was one of the joys of living there that you could start bonfires when you felt the need. Growing up in Croydon is not like being brought up on a farm so my experience of fire-starting was limited to getting bits of furniture to catch light on Guy Fawkes Night, and experimenting with pilfered bits of sodium and potassium from the chemistry labs (our favourite as boys was the half-inch square chunk in the coke can - you have about 10 seconds to get out of the way.)

In addition, decades of helping at youth events, school trips and various other pastoral activities have given me an extensive but utterly superficial knowledge and experience of various outward-bound activities. I can put up a tent, abseil, rock climb, ride a quad bike, use a map and compass, ride a horse, identify edible wild plants, bungee jump, catch mackerel, paddle a canoe, load, fire and clean a Colt 45 and a Smith and Wesson 38, milk a goat, ski - mostly to beginners level 1: a generous assessor might give me a low-level intermediate standard for ski-ing, abseiling and bungee jumping.

Now I was not sure how easily hay would catch fire. The novice master thought it would be great if the stubble in the garden also caught light. I did point out that with ten foot high walls, it would probably be wise to be in the end of the garden nearest the door in that case but he did not seem too worried. Parkminster being a newspaper-free zone, I screwed up a few more pages of the Thompson Directory and put them underneath the edge of the pile. A bottle of Kerosene with a nozzle was provided in the workshop so I squirted a bit of that to help things along. It only took one match...

The Great Cloister is about two-thirds of a mile all round. In recent years, the brothers have taken to delivering messages on bicycles.

With all this activity, and the healthy diet, they do keep the good Lord waiting quite a while before their mortal remains are laid to rest in the simple cemetery which is in the centre of the Great Cloister.

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