Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hypothermia in Coventry

There were three good reasons why Sunday morning needed to go well. 
1. We were in Coventry, and I wanted to serve the saints well with my input; they've been battling on a few fronts. 
2. We'd spent Thursday evening laughing at the local Mystery Worshipper reports from Ship of Fools website.  I'd explained to the guys that I always give our Sunday Celebration events a crisp start.  One day Jesus Fellowship will be on the radar.  A timely call to raise our game where applicable.
3. Andy from Coventry had given Monday's Leaders' event an entertaining run-down on what not to do when taking a neighbourhood-style public meeting.  He'd be there; and I needed to acquit myself honourably as a matter of example.

We came to be in Coventry because Saturday was our annual Multiply UK conference at Cornhill.  We'd promised to stay down when we had an event like this, and do a Sunday morning in Coventry (or maybe Leicester, next year).  Mary hadn't been to Tree of Life, and they gladly offered us their new guest room.

So I opted for a long walk on Friday morning, to disengage from my desk-bound persona and problem solving mindset.  I clocked up 16 miles walking out along A57 (Manchester Road) to the Shefield city boundary: there's a roadside footpath all the way.  By getting up early, I did it between breakfast and lunch, and it left me pleasantly expended and a bit leg weary.  It was pretty nippy going out, with a fair head wind.  The temptation with this kind of blast of fresh air is to come indoors and attack the pantry: cup-a-soups and slices of toast, etc.  (This phenomenon lies at the heart of articles headed, "The myth that the gym will lose you weight.")   I resisted.  The lunches at Multiply conferences are memorable events, and worth attacking with a sharp appetite.  Out in the sticks, I got a few prompts for the Sunday teaching and worked until 11pm getting the notes sorted.  That made me late for the weekly barbecue, and we had an early start on Saturday to get to Cornhill.  I don't know about you, but sleep deficit always creates heat deficit and a tendency to compensate with snacking. 

After Multiply, we arrived at Tree of Life when the tea things had been cleared away.  I'd stopped off at Skaino office to print off the notes for Sunday morning.  The evening household meeting was in Tree of Life's huge lounge, and it was on the chilly side.  In fact, I couldn't detect that any heating was running.  But I was looking forward to a bite of supper, and a chance to warm up before bed.

At this point I need to explain my travelling habits.  I usually take a sleeping bag when I'm staying over for odd nights.  This seems a little discourteous to the hospitality, but has sound sense.  First, my feet stick out beyond the end of a standard bed, and second I generally sleep better with some covers over my head.  Any attempt to achieve a satisfactory bedding arrangement with a normal quilt always proves hopeless.  So an XL sleeping bag is ideal.  This time, I'd weakened, and only brought the cotton liner.  I was mostly concerned for my feet.  I suffer with cold toes.  When I say suffer, I mean it: it's not just a conventional turn of phrase.  But I didn't want to entirely despise the kind offer of a new guest room.  Foolish.

I also need to explain about the Multiply lunch.  It's long been a point of difficulty for our international brethren that UK "church" food is "cold" - both thermally and culinary-wise.  So, there'd been a special effort this time.  Chicken curry was on the menu, along with a fine selection of greens.  I loaded my plate with peas, sprouts and green beans.  Surefoot and I were in deep conversation about White & Bishop and Internet, etc, when I stuffed in a mouthful of beans.  Only, not beans: perniciously firely green chili.  I believe the expression is "chewing on a marine flare".  Steve offered me a glass of milk, but I was beyond reason.  (I wasn't alone: one brother confessed he had three glasses of milk before normal service was resumed.)  My appetite was promptly extinguished.  (I thought I may be, too.)  Even the overflowing dessert dish of cheesecake and fruit salad failed to rekindle my constitution. 

So here, some ten hours later, was the prospect of supper, and with my assulted intestines I couldn't be bothered.  There would be no hurry over breakfast in the morning.  Sleep deficit and the progressive chilling down to about minus sixty degrees in the lounge gave the casting vote.  I crawled off to bed.

The guest room was indeed new.  So much so that the radiator appeared never to have been commissioned.  And the single cupboard contained no spare bedding.  I left on one pair of socks, and hunched up so the quilt came over my shoulder.  The was no comforting spread of warmth that wafts you off to sleep.  Now, I know enough physics to grasp that clothing and bedding are only insulation.  It's my body that needs to generate the heat.  It wasn't happening.  I groped over the side of the bed to find my Jesus Army jacket - an extra layer pressed into faithful service for many years.  (There were no coat hooks on the back of the new door, either...)   Another quarter of an hour - no difference.  Now I was faced with the big question: could I bear to get out, put on my fleece top and second pair of socks? 

I'd remarked to Mary that the last time I could remember a room this cold was in Slovakia, one bitter February.  Then we'd devised an expediency of wearing a complete set of clothes each night.  This had the corresponding disadvantage of  limiting the wardrobe for the daytime's activities.  And it had included wearing a woolly hat all night.  Well, once-upon-a-time bedcaps were standard.

I re-dressed and tried again.  At this point the chili began to make its presence felt.  Twice in the last twelve months I've had Delhi belly.  A year ago in Delhi (surprise!), and in June when we last stayed in Coventry.  It was all without prior warning.  With "normal" diarrhoea you generally feel queasy, headachey, unwell, offering some kind of anticipation.  Now, having been twice caught out, I wasn't trusting anything.  I'd ingested a gut-full of subversive spice, and I feared the worst.  I just lay and fretted and shivered.

The long night drew on.  About two sleepless hours later, I was at least not getting any colder.  But that was a small consolation.  The prospect of being in any kind of state to breast with Sunday's challenge slipped away.  I reviewed my miseries: Friday's long walk and lack of sleep to recharge my metabolism; the chili; the Arctic household meeting; my abandoned sleeping bag.  A succession of unimpressive decisions.  Ahead: my bowels giving way and an energyless attempt at the main meeting. 

"Did you get any sleep?" I asked Mary.  "Oh, lovely; I slept like a log", she glowed back.  And indeed, the bedroom radiator was now working overtime in sympathy. 

I had to tell Simon.  He was concerned.  "Oh Greatheart, ten feet away across the corridor, I have spare bedding in my room.  Why didn't you knock?"  Indeed, why didn't I?

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