18 Dec 2015

welcome to brasenose bncPractise hospitality this Xmas season. Sadly I heard today that the chaplain from my college days died this week. Here’s a little story of why he matters.

I hope you won’t mind me sharing with you a story about him and how he changed my life. I hope it brings a smile to you and inspires you to treat every stranger you meet as important.

At 17, I had no idea about universities to choose, but was lucky enough to be considering Oxford and Imperial in London. My mate Steve I’Anson and I decided to hitch hike down from Manchester to see them both. I had even less idea about the college system, but my French teacher knew about Brasenose and suggested finding it when we got there.

So off we went one warm September day. The first hitch took us out to the M6, the second to Scratchwood services and then the third into London where we got a train to Woking to stay with a remote relative. We thought Woking was London – that’s how much we knew!

The next day I remember vividly. We got the train into London and made our way to Imperial. I’m not sure what we were expecting to happen but it was a series of grey buildings with strangers wandering about. We wandered about too, but didn’t find any focus, life or anything to engage with. Eventually about lunch time we decided to head out. We went cross country to High Wycombe by our first hitch and the kind gentleman dropped us on the A40. Unfortunately the M40 had opened that week bypassing that point and our luck was out. We walked through a very warm afternoon, the ten miles or so to the M40 Stokenchurch junction where we promptly got a lift into Oxford. Again a very kind gentleman, in a Ford Capri, went out of his way to drop us. Our only knowledge of the place being BNC, that’s where he dropped us. We were, pardon me, knackered.

IMG_9094We wandered into Radcliffe Square, somewhat in awe of the buildings around us of course. I still am! We knocked timidly on the porter’s window and asked what we could see. He took one look at us and brought us into the lodge. He must have called Peter Robson as a “vicar” promptly turned up to contradict the porter’s opinion if us. “They need a cuppa tea.” “Nonsense, they need a beer! Come with me!”. We were rapidly toured around the quads and then over to the Bear to hear about the ties and to be gently questioned. Once slightly oiled, a bunch of American tourists were drawn into the conversation and conviviality reigned. I remember we all went back to rooms on the ground floor in, I think, New Quad for tea and toast. Eventually, wobbling back to a B&B in Pembroke Street, we listened to the many church bells ring out the hour.

Fate had nothing to do with an instant decision that this was the place for me. Peter Robson did.

I’ve told this story many times. Particular because it explains something our friends know about me and my wife Siobhan: all invites and correspondence about our parties, dinners or drinks are titled “Practise Hospitality”. It was a phrase well chosen from Romans 12. That evening was the origins of my waking from childhood, growing into who I am and learning what hospitality means. All in the way that Brasenose still displays to this day.

As Betjeman said in his autobiography ‘Summoned by bells”: “Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.”

I’m not a fan of religions, but Peter Robson’s hospitality was the most christian and moslem of things.

Romans 12, verses 9 to 13
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”