To Infinity ………… and  Beyond
Well, not quite but still a long journey beckoned for a small group of AMD cheerleaders who gathered together very early on a sunny Friday morning, 26th July 2019. The reason was a foray to distant lands, more accurately to a Devon & Cornwall AMD District meeting to be held in Plymouth.
The day had started at around 5am when the alarm on my phone started to bleep and wake me (and probably half the neighbourhood) from slumber. I hadn’t previously known that there were two 5 o’clocks in a day, and it was at that point that I’d wished I hadn’t drunk that last whiskey the previous evening. Ah well, no turning back now, up for a shower and a spot of fodder before dressing and setting off.
It had been arranged, with the approval of our Grand Master I might add, to meet and park our cars adjacent to his house (“no banging of car doors”). And so around 7am, William Richmond and I were sat in the morning sun (before the monsoons began) on the Grand Master’s garden wall talking quietly about the journey ahead. Quite unexpectedly the Grand Master appeared at his front door, in his full-dress regalia would you believe, anxious to wave this merry band off on their travels. I ask you, in what other Masonic Order would you find its leader so intent on supporting members of his flock? It made me quite emotional if I’m honest, what a great organisation we’re part of. I was so taken by this turn of events that I forgot to take a photograph! Ah well, perhaps next time.
We were to be picked up by our District Grand Prefect, and sure enough bang on time he arrived. I’ve always seen the DGP as one who really believes in sharing the workload, and it became plain that this doesn’t just relate to Freemasonry, as he had roped in his wife Sally to do the driving, thanks Sally. So, it was an early morning for her as well, isn’t Paul thoughtful? With the last huzzahs of the Grand Master fading into the background, we made the short journey to Buckshaw village railway station where we were to catch a train to Manchester Piccadilly. Thanks to Sally’s careful driving, we arrived safe and sound with plenty of time to spare.
“Let the train take the strain”
I think our DGP was a member of the scouts movement (Gin Gang Gooli etc.) and consequently he leaves nothing to chance, “be prepared”; and prepared he always is, for out of a smallish soft case (which we later christened Mary Poppins bag for the amount of goodies it could hold) he produced three bin lid size barm cakes, each holding about half a pound of delicious crispy bacon, which he kindly handed round to us. “I thought you might have missed your breakfast with the early start.” What a kind gesture!
The Grand Master waving us off, the District Grand Prefect producing bacon butties out of his Pandora ’s Box, and the sun shining down on the righteous. What a great start to our trek to Plymouth. The journey from Buckshaw to Manchester Piccadilly was uneventful and we arrived with plenty of time enabling us to take advantage of the first-class lounge, and a pattern started to emerge. As you’re probably aware, travelling first class enables you to take on ‘free’ refreshments on each long-distance train and also the first-class lounge located at each main station (our DGP always reminded us that they aren’t free, but included within the ticket price!!). I noticed that this enabled the DGP to ensure that his magical bag got topped up with a variety of snacks, “just in case we need more sustenance on a later part of the journey.” The upshot was that we had all put on half a stone in weight, in old money, by the time we arrived at Plymouth!
Two colleagues from East Lancashire (DGP Mervyn Wilson and W. Bro. Paul Waring) joined at Stockport. In truth, because of the closeness of the Districts of East and West Lancashire, many Brethren are members of Allied Councils in both Districts, and so allegiances are blurred, and we get on very well … for the most part!!!!.  At Manchester, our DGP used his executive privileges and very kindly invited a young family of 4 (who were split between a number of seats) to use the places reserved for Mervyn and Paul so that the family could be together. He was certain that his Good Samaritan action would be approved of by Mervyn and Paul, and so it was.
East meets West” - Ray, Paul, Mervyn, Paul and William relax as they wait for the train to Plymouth
The journey to London passed by quickly as we chatted and took advantage of the trolley service. Spotting the new Wembley Stadium and its halo was a signal that we were close to Euston, arriving in good time. A 10-minute walk to Euston Square followed enabling us to use the Underground to Paddington Station, where we were to join the train for Plymouth. Arriving at Paddington early enabled us to make use of the first-class lounge again (I’m sure that you are following the cunning plan of our DGP who has a motto “thou shalt not want for sustenance on thy perilous journey”).
On the GWR train ride to Plymouth we were seated adjacent to a young family from Kings Cross going to Cornwall on holiday. Interestingly, the Lady was a set designer for films and plays and her partner was a photographer in the same line of business. Amongst a number of pleasantries, it turned out that they enjoyed the ‘soul’ music scene and were interested in the Wigan Casino which some of you may know had a lively soul all-nighter in the 1970’s. They were also interested in 60/70/80’s pop music, and consequently they were entertained to an Allied Brethren rendition of ‘Winchester Cathedral’, amongst other golden oldies, led by our DDGP William Richmond. Other adjacent passengers couldn’t help joining in with the singalong. I’ve got to say that our singing seemed to improve following a noggin or two out of bottle of a special spicy gin, only taken for medicinal purposes of course; and yes, you’ve guessed it, together with a bottle of tonic it was conjured up out of our DGP’s Mary Popping’s bag!! (I never actually saw him manifesting the proverbial kitchen sink from his bag during our journey, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had done).
“Mervyn and William enjoying the hospitality”
We wished the young family bon voyage as we arrived in a sunny and warm Plymouth station around 5.30ish, about a half hour later than scheduled. Our travel consultant, sorry DGP, insisted that we are due to compensation as a result of the delay and I wait in anticipation. A short taxi drive to our respective hotels followed, then showered and refreshed we set off to the quayside, from which the Pilgrim Fathers had departed to America.
Here we were to meet up with Geoff Catterall, his wife Sue, Stuart Leach, and Alan Comber, together with Mervyn and Paul Wareing.    After a pleasant couple of beers / Pym’s in a local hostelry, we then made our way to a harbour fish restaurant where Geoff had reserved a table. An excellent and enjoyable meal followed, freshly cooked fish of all species and a few bottles of wine were devoured by the hungry hoard of northern interlopers.  It had been a long day, and opportunities for more liquid refreshment were ignored in favour of turning in early.
“Something fishy going on ”
The following morning I caught up with our DGP and Geoff Catterall taking an morning turn around Plymouth Hoe on a very pleasant morning, where we bumped into Sir Francis Drake (I tell you no lie), but he declined our invitation to a game of bowls on account of an approaching Armada which he had just spotted on the horizon; what an eventful start to the day.
“Drake and the Armada - anyone for bowls”
A good breakfast was devoured and following a final wash and brush up we changed into funeral director’s dress and booked out of the hotel. After a pleasant stroll we arrived at Plymouth (Mount Edgcumbe) Masonic Hall for the Devon and Cornwall District meeting, the primary reason for our other East and West Lancashire Brethren together with other old and new acquaintances and enjoyed an excellent meeting and festive board.
“A Dashing of DGP’s, Paul Snape (West Lancs), John French (Surry),
Mervyn Wilson (East Lancs) and Geoffrey Cheshire (Hearts and Beds)
Mount Edgcumbe Hall and Lodge Room”

The timing of our return trains meant that we had to leave the festive board early, quickly changing into more appropriate travelling gear in a robing room and then by taxi to Plymouth station for the start of our return  journey. Alan Comber was driving on to Bournemouth for a holiday, Geoff and Sue we’re stopping over another night in Plymouth before driving home.

The ride north was accompanied by a gradual deterioration in the weather (from sunny Plymouth to persisting rain by the time we arrived in Preston). Unfortunately, as we boarded we were informed that catering staff and supplies would only be available from Crewe, and so it proved, and the refreshment service only began just after our East Lancashire Colleagues had left the train at Stockport. Our DGP wouldn’t text a photograph of the refreshments to taunt Mervyn and Paul…..would he? Answers on a post card please.
We sat with a young Lady from the Preston area who now lived in London with her partner and was travelling to Preston to meet her parents before the birth of her child. We chattered throughout the journey, and intriguingly we found that her job was teaching new-born babies to swim. She suggested that within 10 days a new-born baby was able to swim proficiently and showed us a video to prove it. These trips can be very educational as well as enjoyable!
Arriving at a waterlogged Preston station we decided not to wait for a Chorley connection and to take advantage of a waiting taxi to pick up our cars, arriving home around the witching hour. What a great couple of days, it had flown over as happens when you are enjoying yourselves. 
“Here’s to our next merry meeting” Alan Comber, Ray Pye, Paul Waring, Paul Snape,
William Richmond, Mervyn Wilson, Geoff Catterall and Stuart Leach.
Words and Pictures – Francis Drake’s Bosun (acting as stand in deputy assistant south west coast scribe)