DAY 1 - SATURDAY
My first experience of General Council (GC) was... interesting. I went as an "Observer" - presumably because I wasn't to be trusted with voting rights on my first time out. Four of us travelled up together – me and the other Observer plus the two voting delegates.
Let me say straight away that if you are considering going, then go: it is a worthwhile experience and will tell you a lot about the organisation to which you belong.
From the suits to the staff uniforms and past the casual clothes to the guy who walked into the auditorium wearing shorts and boots, carrying a rucksack, Ramblers are a very diverse and interesting group of people. Some were in bed by 9pm then up at the crack of dawn whilst others were in the bar until 1am then arose (gently) the next morning at a more respectable time.
This year's GC was held at York University Campus and a lovely place it is, too. The accommodation was in campus dormitories that were better than some of the hotels that can be found close to motorways and major roads. The grounds are a delight to walk through, with lakes and waterfowl of all kinds. The dining facilities and food were pretty good, too.
We arrived at GC in time for Lunch – I was first in the queue. Members Day was in full swing and there had already been a morning of workshops on various matters. We registered for the Members Day and were given a bag of things including more paperwork to go with the 150 pages of stuff that we had been sent days before. During the two hours allotted for lunch, delegates were supposed to enjoy a leisurely meal as quickly as possible then look around the various exhibitors. Being first in the queue for lunch meant that I was able to get to the stalls almost before anyone else. Lucky me! This meant that I was able to get my feet properly measured and assessed – apparently, I just need to find £400 for some orthopaedic insoles and a made-to-measure pair of walking boots then I'll be over the hills and far away in no time.
The afternoon programme continued apace with question & answer sessions, addresses and the "pat on the back" awards. Just when I was beginning to think of sneaking off somewhere quiet to have a look at all my paperwork I realised it was 4pm – time to register for GC, itself. More paperwork!! But there was no time to read it as a very helpful volunteer took me by the elbow to lead me to the auditorium where a talk by the Chief Exec was just about to start and she was sure that I wouldn't want to miss it. Turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would be as Benedict finished his presentation by announcing that he was resigning and would be leaving by the end of July – an announcement that seemed to take many by surprise. He alluded to receiving verbal attacks and to frustration with the way things were going. His parting sentence was along the lines of, "There's a vacancy for a footpaths officer with my local group so I might apply for that".
This was followed by hustings for the various elections that would be happening the next day. There was also Dinner from 6pm to 8pm – no time to enjoy it, though, as delegates were expected to also attend "Governance Discussions". These turned out to be a 10 minute explanation of how to respond to questions with different coloured post-it notes on which you should write the letters "Y" or "N" then stick them on the walls of the room. All around the walls were questions and depending on how you answered, you could then go forward three questions or go down a snake or collect £200 (You're right, I didn't quite understand it).
Finally, by 9pm, it was all over for the day - 3 options – go for a walk; adjourn to my room and read the paperwork or go to the bar and schmooze. Difficult decision, so I went to the bar to think about what I should do. Here, I met the most fascinating people. There was the chance to talk to staff members (easily identifiable in their Khaki shirts and name badges), trustees and even the outgoing President, Kate Ashbrook, among many others. I could name drop everyone but that would just be showing off; though it would go some way towards explaining how I knew for sure that there were people in the bar until 1am.
DAY 2 – SUNDAY
First in the queue for a 7.30am breakfast (are you spotting a trend, yet?). First session of GC starts at 9am with the issuing of "quelle surprise", more paperwork! This session deals mainly with the Annual Report and Accounts plus a load of admin-type things.
After a break, we get on to updates of ongoing motions from previous years then election results then..... 2016 Motions for the rest of the day – what fun!
For a formal report of how the motions went, please see the Area Secretaries report.
As an "observer" (sit still, say nowt and don't vote), I have these comments to make. Why do people who know that they are going to speak to certain motions always sit at the back of auditoria? There appeared to be a sort of any three or four from eight people who would speak to any given motion. These people almost exclusively sat towards the back and in the middle of rows. Every motion saw a couple of them put up their hands to speak. At first, it looked as though the organisers were wise to this as they had several microphones that could be rushed up the steps to the person wanting to speak. But, not wanting to be denied their moment of glory, by the third motion, this little group of experienced GC-goers were quickly jumping to their feet when called and rushing to the stairs to come clumping down to the static microphone on stage. Often, they seemed to have little new to add but, satisfied with their intervention, they would clump back up the steps to their seat. By about the fifth motion, they had this down to a fine art and, being the courteous people that they are, they would wait at the top of the stairs for the previous speaker to come clumping back to their seat before setting off on their own clump towards 20 seconds of fame.
One woman clumped down the steps to the front to announce that she had intended to vote one way but had now changed her mind – then clumped back to her seat without adding anything further.
The star of the motions session, for me, was the mover of a motion who spoke with some passion then, at the vote, abstained!
Even amidst all the serious talk on the Governance Motions there was a moment of surrealism as one speaker took the microphone to announce the latest score in the T20 Cricket.
Then, all too soon, it was 4pm and it was all over for another year.
Would I go again? - absolutely! For all the relentless pace of it, and all of its eccentricity, there are moments when you can sit back and marvel at the variety of people who come together with such passion to support and work for this movement of ours.
And did I really "sit still, say nowt and don't vote"? Not quite. I was invited to comment on each of the motions before the voting delegates cast their votes.