With torrential rain battering the roof of our mini-van, Speakers Corner arrived at Meon Springs with mixed expectations. Nick (boss) was up for it. With Sydney (dog) in tow, and Barbour jacket waxed and primed for a weekend of galvanising outdoor activity and productive team-building, he glared with disdain at the sparkling newly-purchased collection of Hunter wellies and Longchamp bags (2 brown, 1 navy and 1 lovely deep mauve) – and sniggered at our thoroughly cynical London demeanour, as we trudged through the downpour to our allocated Yurt – and immediately decided not to unpack, to sleep in socks and jumpers – and to refrain from complaining in the interest of ‘team bonding.’
The rolling fields and stunning contours of the classic English panorama were still not quite enough to distract 11 colleagues from the trepidation of spending a weekend together – after a whole week at the office in each other’s company, it was clear that escape was not feasible (Nick hid the van keys) and that the only way to survive would be to embrace the concept of ‘love thy colleague’ and to envelop ourselves in the comfort of Meon Springs’ hearty country offerings, despite the gruesome weather.
The first ray of sunshine arrived in the form of Hamish Taylor, business speaker extraordinaire, who spent two hours in the meeting room, impressing us with his tales of introducing flat-beds to British Airways and turning around Sainsbury’s Bank and Eurostar. His charismatic approach and inspirational messages formed the first bubbles of anticipation for what could now foreseeably become a really entertaining and maybe even enjoyable weekend, even for those of us still recovering from the abject despair of having left paradisical Mexican beaches for the delights of the coldest March on records in Hampshire.
Claire was our chef for the weekend – and our first taste of her delectable cooking on Friday night left us wanting more….the 12 bottles of wine consumed between us resulted in a welcome fogginess, and the ability to forget that Jamie was picking us up in his tractor at 7am the next morning to milk cows…
A surprisingly warm and pleasant (albeit short) night’s sleep was followed by a morning of cows, mud and pumps. The rain was holding off (mother nature clearly appreciated the need to encourage us city-slickers to embrace farm life…) and 11 farm novices surreptitiously concealed their disdain for the random emptying of bladder and bowel from the most enormous bovine creatures and succumbed to the pleasures of pumping milk from warm udders, whilst avoiding being kicked and splattered by the frustrated cows, suffering from our idiotic attempts to attach udders to pumps.
And then it happened…taken to see the brand-new calves…and we were smitten. Our group comprised of animal-lovers and those not so keen, but we were universally bowled over by the dewey eyes and shiny brown down of these beautiful newborns, waiting for their milk and impatiently pushing our stroking hands away from their soft noses as breakfast was brought to them in vats
The undeniable charm of Meon Springs was slowly permeating our hung-over team. A work session was followed by another delightful lunch by Claire, who was also entertaining a full-house of Mother’s Day guests and cooking for her own family…
Down at the fishery this time, we had to gather strength for two hours of fly-fishing – another activity completely new and daunting to us. With endless patience and humour, the team of experts took us through our paces and, with varying levels of success, we absorbed the beauty of the flowing stream, spectacular landscape, and first rays of sun. But by far the most extraordinary and unexpected delight of the afternoon was the overwhelming and calming soundlessness – a peace that the Big Smoke never offers – and a break from the unrelenting chatter of colleagues (writes the self-confessed chief culprit...)
Dead and shiny trout were packed away in the fridges, and a few more work sessions – surprisingly open, useful and at times emotional - followed.
And then the big night out. Very hot showers, lengthy hair discussions (to wash or not to wash…), and some pre-dinner aperitifs in the form of more wine and brownies, built us up to the one of the best pub dinners many of us have eaten – and we love food at Speakers Corner – at the Thomas Lord in West Meon. A sumptuous truffle risotto stole the show, followed closely by an array of divine dishes and winning wine.
Satiated and tipsy (again), the fresh air and fabulous food started getting to our heads – an unusual camaraderie had formed – to say we were all enjoying ourselves enormously was not an over-statement. Chief games-maker Sophie had planned and executed various challenging quizzes, and Management attempted to console even those who produced the lowest scores with some appallingly funny prizes.
Sunday morning was our last chance to enjoy the beauty of England’s finest country-side and Claire’s final and finest breakfast was consumed with fervour. Back on the mini-bus, shattered, overfed and invigorated, Speakers Corner waved goodbye to a wonderful weekend in a spot of rare beauty, run by the most hospitable and generously helpful and friendly staff.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016