A few years ago I was invited to speak at a conference that was being held in the Isle of Man.  To be honest, I accepted the invitation because an all-expenses-paid visit to the Isle of Man was irresistible. I spent my teens on the Island and loved the place.  I still take each of my grandchildren back on a ‘rite of passage’ week of adventures when they become nine years old.  So, it’s true to say that the location, not the conference, was the sole reason for my attendance (now you know; if you want to ensure I attend your conference, arrange for it to take place in the Isle of Man and I’ll be there like a shot!).

I vaguely understood that the occasion was the annual conference of a society of spiritualists. As I’ve explained, this was of little consequence to me – until I got there.  I flew into Ronaldsway Airport in Castletown (within sight of my old secondary school) and was met by a large Mercedes driven by a uniformed chauffeur.  The Island is only 30 miles long, with the airport in the south and the conference venue in the north.  I sat back and enjoyed being driven along a series of memory lanes!

The venue for the conference was a large ‘Georgian’ mansion (pseudo) set in the middle of the countryside (even in the Isle of Man it is possible not to be near anywhere). The mansion was owned by an American heiress who, tantalisingly, was away at the time of the conference.  I longed to meet her, but it was not to be.  My room was sumptuous, the food was delicious, the swimming pool was immaculate.  The conference itself met in a large timbered barn (pseudo) equipped with every mod con at the push of a button.

I was the first guest speaker (due to run a session on learning styles – I’m type cast!), so I went to the opening of the conference expecting it to be the normal standard welcome.  Instead the following happened.

We, about 50 of us, sat in a large circle.  In the middle was a small table containing about 12 unlit candles and holders.  Nobody spoke.  We sat in total silence for at least 10 minutes.  Eventually someone, a man, stood up and wandered slowly to the table.  He picked up a candle, lit it and held it with both hands. He then dedicated it to the spirit of one of their members who had died (inevitably he said ‘passed away’) since their last annual conference.  Then he put the candle in a holder and walked slowly back to his seat.  After about another five minutes a woman stood up and repeated the procedure, this time dedicating her candle to her mother who had also ‘passed away’ (well, to be accurate, she said ‘passed over’).  Then another.  And another. 

I sat there wondering if I, as a guest, was eligible, or even expected, to donate a candle. Eventually, we reached the penultimate candle and I realised that it was a now or never moment. Feeling rather foolish I stood up, walked slowly to the table and lit a candle.  I donated it to friendship, put it in a holder and walked (slowly) back to my seat.

Once all the candles had been lit, and dedicated, the conference proper began with an conventional welcome and the usual fire/toilet notices; all rather mundane after the strange start to the proceedings.

No one remarked that my dedication to friendship, conspicuous amongst all those departed spirits, was inappropriate or flippant.  In fact, a number of the participants went out of their way to thank me.  I wasn’t invited back to their next annual conference but I did learn how to divine water with a wire coat hanger!

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