Help Your Self by Peter Leyland

                                                  Help Your Self, the Triumph of Hope over Experience*

Now I didn’t like being on my own, but I wasn’t about to rush back into getting married again. Once bitten twice shy, as they say. I was continually surprised by how people around me in the same situation seemed to quickly meet someone else and settle down. I just could not work out how they found it so easy. I had tried friendships of the Harry met Sally type, which unfortunately didn’t end up for me as it does in the film; I had done some blind-dating that actually led to a couple of more than friendships, involving in one case a trip to Paris (without the two boys), but they both came to nothing; and I had even met someone from Manchester on a poetry course with whom I shared what might be called ‘a brief encounter’; but in the end I was still rattling around in my terraced house with prearranged visits from my daughter every couple of weeks, and wondering what it would take to change my life…


Enter Sylvia Longstaff: I had been glancing through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room when I came across her advert for singles holidays. These were in Buckden in the Yorkshire Dales, a place I knew well from walking trips there which I had liked a lot. Sylvia ran these holidays called Longstaff Leisure for single people, but her primary aim was not to match people up, nor could it be, for the ratio of men to women was about 7 to 14, mostly sharing rooms. She had to offer something else. 


Anyway, I took my chance. I booked a visit and drove to Buckden in my Ford Fiesta, not on my motorcycle. I had sold that and learned to drive a car. I had discovered you see that having a car was important, and that even the type was a selling point, as well as having lots of money and knowing your star signs - this was the eighties after all. But before I get carried away with stars, and there is more to come about them later, let me get on with what happened after I had arrived at Longstaff Leisure in the Yorkshire Dales.


Sylvia and her partner Laurence met us at the door, and we all sat round drinking tea and having pieces of nice cake and wondering what on earth we were doing there. But Sylvia was good with people who were looking for that something else, and she did dance and movement classes with us, and she and Laurence took us for walks in the Dales, and for swimming together in the local pool which had a jacuzzi, and Sylvia told us about Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway about the work of a social researcher called Susan Jeffers. I mention Feel the Fear because it was a time when self-help books were taking off. I had read works by Dorothy Rowe and M. Scott Peck and I had already read Susan Jeffers’s book before I came to Buckden, but it was a useful coincidence that I was thinking along those lines.

In fact, I enjoyed the visit so much that I booked another one for Christmas, a most difficult time to be single, as I had found when every TV advert was extolling the virtues of coupledom and how wonderful it all was. Anyway, at Buckden during the festive season we did the usual walking and jacuzziing; and we spent some time Christmas shopping in the market square at Grassington, and some carol singing; and Sylvia organised a Christmas morning for us where we all came down in our dressing gowns and ate bacon sandwiches and opened presents from home. Childish? Yes, it was, but sometimes I think you need to be that way.


That Christmas I shared a room with Geoff with whom I really got on well, and Geoff had a Lamborghini which someone suggested later he must have hired for the holiday, but I didn’t think that at the time, I was too busy pretending to be an Italian waiter, standing behind the bar wearing a natty waistcoat and romancing the other guests. Yes, I romanced Rosa, who was from South America, and we became friends, not lovers no ‘lovers’ was for Geoff, who romanced Melinda and took her away in the Lamborghini at the end of the holiday to somewhere exotic and they may still be together, I don’t know, it was quite a long time ago. But I did meet up with Rosa again. She had invited me to Salford where she lived and we were there during the Chinese New Year of all things, and we watched all these long colourful caterpillar dragons, purple and green, weaving in and out of the crowds with dancing and music. We later went to an Encounter session, another feature of the self-help movements of the time, where there were a lot of people in a room filled with cushions, just that, and we were told to interact. Many of the others seemed to be from Spain and I found it all quite bewildering and I just wanted to be hugged… I didn’t see Rosa again after that.


But you know, I had had a really good time at Longstaff, and Sylvia sensed it and at the end of the Christmas holiday she had said to me, ‘It’s working for you isn’t it?’, and so I came again for another visit, but you can guess the result of that one, can’t you? In terms of sheer weight of numbers, I was bound to meet somebody, and when you start looking at lambs with Angela who you’ve been talking to on a long walk, well it’s on the cards isn’t it? And to cut a long story short we did spend a year or so together, but she ended it before I did, which I should have done earlier, because no way was she right for me, she just found me sexy and I was flattered because no-one had ever said that to me before. Well, what would you have done? Been more careful, I suppose.


Anyhow, on my final visit to Longstaff for a long weekend I went cautiously and danced pleasantly with Helen, who told me she had met someone through a group called Sirius, and that they were going to be married, but she had already booked this holiday so had come on it anyway. And I, who was by now becoming a bit wiser in these matters of the single life, found out when I got home about my local Sirius and joined it. Sirius is of course the dog star, the brightest star in the sky, and I started going to their parties, at one of which after about a year I did meet someone.


A bottle of wine please for Helen, and one for Sylvia or perhaps two bottles or even three for her, and if we want to become metaphysical, reader, let’s give Sylvia an ocean of wine for running Longstaff Leisure yes, an ocean:

                                                   ‘A flask of wine, a book of verse - and thou’


Which if you didn’t know is from The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam and, if you take nothing else away from these meanderings, do take a look at it.



*The portrayal of Sylvia Longstaff is based on a real person of that name, but other names and characters have been invented. Apologies are due to Dr Samuel Johnson for the title.


Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (1987) by Susan Jeffers

The Road Less Travelled (1983) M. Scott Peck

The Successful Self (1988)) Dorothy Rowe

The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam, first translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859




Ruth Leigh said…
Thanks so much for sharing so generously - a fascinating read.
Jan Needle said…
Really enjoyed that. Thanks
Marina Sofia said…
That sounds like a nice way to meet people and at least make friends. Much prefer that to online dating - the horror stories I hear from my friends!
Griselda Heppel said…
I loved this. I want to know more. Sylvia Longstaff's holidays sound wonderful, a haven for people who want to make friends first and do fun things and maybe one of those friendships will grow into something deeper, as at least one clearly did for you... then the connection with Sirius (which is particularly bright at the moment)... and I hope next month you'll give us the next instalment!
I found the description of Christmas morning at Buckden particularly moving, I don't know why. Proof that you don't need turkey and crackers and yule logs to get to the heart of Christmas, I suppose. Just bacon sandwiches shared with friends will do.
Peter Leyland said…
Thanks for all your comments. Sylvia was a wonderful person and for a time became a friend although I have now lost touch. I was looking at how a chance discovery in one's life can lead to so much more. Griselda, I will have to work on what happened next...
Reb MacRath said…
Thanks for sharing your adventure. Looking forward to the next installment. And don't be shy about adding a racy paragraph or two.

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