Friday, September 14, 2018

In the club

I’ve not blogged in a while – but I’ve been busy!  Earlier in the summer – on one of the hottest days – my friend Sheena and I hired a car transporter and solved three problems in one day.  Problem one – my daughter’s mini had been assaulted by a badger and had come off worse. Problem two, she had another old car she needed moved as they were moving house and needed the car ‘gone’. Problem three, Sheena had killed her old Ford and it had sat outside her house slowly deteriorating under the trees. 

Have transporter will travel!
The cost of getting the cars moved by a recovery company was horrendous, so we hired a transporter and did the car shifting ourselves.  I’d never driven a transporter (and still haven’t, Sheena got to drive), or operated a winch, or – and this is tricky – driven/guided a car onto a transporter up two narrow ramps before.  This was the day!

Trip one was taking the mini to a garage about 12 miles away to see if it was rescuable (it wasn’t).   Trip two was taking the old car (a Ka, which we could save with a bit of TLC) to Sheena’s – a 75 mile journey.  Trip three was taking her Ford from home to a peaceful resting place for possible rehabilitation or to where, like Miss Haversham, it could wither away gently and deteriorate with a bitter, sly grace.
Chizel in the cab

The transporter club
One thing we noticed when driving all the miles in our transporter, requisite car on the back, was the waves, flashes and smiles we got from other transporter drivers. For one day, we were in the ‘car recovery driver’ club!  What was even better was the sudden change of expression from camaraderie to shock as the fellow transporter realized our truck was occupied by two women (and a small dog).  We didn’t see a single other female transport driver, though we know you are out there!

Waggytails club
Axle in the garden
My story leads on from the dog in the cabin (Chizel) to a whole team of dogs.  I don’t have a dog, haven’t had one since I was a child, but I do love dogs, and luckily they seem to like me.   This year I have become involved with a dog agility club and have been helping out at the agility displays during the summer – mostly being an equipment shifter, but once having the luck to run a dog (or rather let the dog run me), and once as a commentator.  I have taken Sheena’s large and handsome Caucasian Shepherd cross (Axle) and his pal (Chizel) out for walks, and all of a sudden I’m in the ‘dog club’.  Other people with dogs will stop and talk to me.  People without dogs will stop and talk to the dogs. 

The ultimate club!
We’ve been working with my daughter’s dog too, helping improve behavior because… the last and rather corny link to the title of this blog is my delight at the onset of grannyhood. My daughter is, to put it colloquially, in the club.   I am sure I will have a whole new range of things to blog about next year!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dog days

Life has a way of turning up unexpected challenges, and delights. I haven't owned a dog since I was a child, but I am now in the position of having two dogs (and more!) in my life on a regular basis.

I loved my dog, Petra (pictured here with a slightly younger me), and she would accompany our family on holidays all over the country.  We used to drive to Devon, and I remember stopping at a pub called the Pig and Whistle (I have no idea where it was, but somewhere between London and Devon, and there was no motorway in those days).  This pub was just over a bridge by a river - and the bridge was about 20 foot above the field and water below.  I was in the field, and my brother on the top with the dog. Petra jumped!  I can still remember it now - a flying dog. Amazingly she didn't hurt herself.  Another time after we'd left the pub, my brother said 'Can we have the dog in the back please?' (in a big old Humber Super Snipe there was room front or back for her).  'She is in the back'.  Oh dear.... we turned around and drove back to the pub to find her sitting patiently by the bridge, just waiting for us.  She'd jumped in one open door, then straight out another!

Petra had a best buddy, my cousin's dog Dusty. She was a black mongrel (where have all the mongrels gone?) and was probably a distant relative of a Labrador somewhere along the way.  Her claim to fame was thinking that seaweed was grass and sinking in surprise into a salty lagoon. No harm there either, thankfully.  Petra used to go to the pet shop in Whetstone High Road on her own - travelling there from our house by going up the road, across on the zebra crossing, and then back down to the pet shop where she would get a doggy treat. In those days you let your dogs out on the street, and dog poos dried in the sun in the gutter to a chalky white.

Getting comfy
Now my life is very doggy-ful again. And I am loving it. My daugther has a very cute Bichon Frize (see Two Walks), and I am sometimes left in charge.  She's a real cutie.  And I spend lots of time with Axle (see him in Gift of Snow) and Chizel (see below), my two new best friends.  A couple of weekends ago I assisted at two dog shows. My job was to help move the equipment for an agility display team. I wasn't that slick and had to be prompted more than once, but had great fun watching the pooches perform with their proud owners. And the show dogs watched too, or more often commentated very vocally.

Chizel and I
(Photo by Hannah)
The dogs (and a couple of cats) belong to the owner of the dog training and agility club, and I am now used to being sat upon, going for long walks, finding dog hairs in places where dog hairs shouldn't be, and generally enjoying their companionship.  The coming weekend is a bank holiday, and predicted to be hot. I shall be going to a dog event again, and helping with the display team equipment again.  Later in June I am going to be promoted to (temporary) commentator, talking the watching audience through the antics of the dogs, talking about their histories and what kind of dogs they are.  I am looking forward to that - and hopefully I won't make a mess of it.  Dog days ahead.


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Monday, March 05, 2018

First Aid

I work for a charity that focuses on saving lives. So even as a fundraiser I am trained in first aid. I think this is an amazing attitude for the charity to take, and who knows – one day it may come in extremely useful.

My colleagues and I did our annual refresher today – keeping up to date with changes in practice (such as when to call 999 in relation to a choking – advice that has changed in the last 12 months) to refreshing our knowledge and practice of CPR.

The pace of change that we see in every aspect of our lives, especially technological, is also affecting how first aid can be delivered. There are now some amazing apps you can download on your phone that will teach you more about CPR, that will alert local first responders, and eventually there will be other innovations like drone delivery of urgent medical kit like AEDs (automated external defibrillators – those things that deliver the shock to the heart).  
Stopping the bleeding

In some Scandinavian countries, up to 80% of the general public know how to do CPR and use an AED. In the UK it’s more like 40%.  Given that CPR dramatically increases your chance of survival after a cardiac arrest, the more people who can deliver CPR and are confident in using an AED the better.

What would you do if your loved one had a heart attack? What would you do if your child started choking? If you suffered a major injury that resulted in a lot of bleeding?  If you can find the time, you could save a life.  I feel more confident now that if needed I could do the basic first aid that could buy the vital time you need before the professionals arrive.

If you have an AED in your town or at your place of work, know where it is.  Don’t be afraid - find out how to use it - as our trainer said, you can't do any damage as they are automated to help you do it right, even if you've never touched one before.

Useful links:

And do search for First Aid apps on your phone.

The Gift of Snow

When the snow comes, it brings many things. Sometimes it brings real hardship, and for those without homes I felt concern, and for those without water I felt sympathy.  For those who have been cut off without supplies, I am so glad that we have a military who are able to respond not just to conflict but to the needs of our people. However, for me the snow that came in the form of the ‘Beast from theEast’ was a gift.

A snowy lane
in the forest
We live busy lives, and taking the time to just enjoy our environment is not always easy. But when you are snowed in, there’s no option.  Of course, you have to be in the right place to be snowed in, and with the right resources, and I was amazingly lucky.

On the Monday evening I headed to Suffolk so that my journey to Norfolk the following day would be easier. Well, I was wrong there!  The journey to Suffolk was fine, only one briefly worrying snow flurry on the way, but the roads and the weather for heading to Norfolk on the Tuesday (even in a four by four) was impossible!  We were stuck in traffic, and then the weather deteriorated and we headed back to the forest. Oh yes, the forest, near the sea! 

We returned home, abandoning the queues of traffic and the journey back to my friend’s house in the forest was much easier. We had plenty of food, plenty of wood (hardly surprising) and the internet. I could work from my temporary home.

Enjoying the snow
I was visiting my new friend, who I didn’t know that well, but who I instantly hit it off with. The first few times we have met we laughed so much; both with a slightly off beat sense of humour and a sense of the ridiculous, we also both love the natural world.  So being snowed in with someone I didn’t know that well (and who didn’t know me well either) was an interesting test of our friendship. Especially as I didn’t actually get home until the Sunday so it wasn't just a day or two.

My friend has two dogs, and dogs love snow when they can run around in it, play in it, and chase each other through the trees and round the garden.  On the Tuesday I phoned my boss – it made sense to work from home, but I also took some time off too. I was in a snow filled wood, I was going to take advantage! (And most of my colleagues hadn't made it to work either, so a lot less emails than usual.)

The time we had together was a gift – we were able to get to know each other better and indeed had a lot more laughs and fun.  From walking in the woods and trying to find the dog after he’d gone tearing off after some (much faster) deer, or chopping wood in the garden with a chain saw and log splitter, the  
I discovered I chop wood left-handed
beauty of the world covered in snow far outweighed the disadvantage of not getting to work.

Snowy tracks told
their own stories
My delight in Suffolk has stemmed from my childhood when I spent many happy holidays near Foxearth (where I also met my first ghosts, aged just 3).  My week being snowed in near Southwold has only confirmed my love for this beautiful county.

All photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Stories for ladybirds

Being intro'd

Telling stories is something we all do – whether it’s that little white lie to avoid going for a second dinner at the in-laws, or an enchanting tale to delight the youngest. So when my friend asked me to do a session on storytelling to her local WI, I wondered how to approach it.

This WI group is different – the average age was younger than me, by quite a few years, and the cakes were mostly shop-bought. Not a jar of jam in sight! (Sorry, trying to bust a stereotype rather than dis cake-making skills here).

I started with using my work as an example. Ask me what I do – and I gave two answers:

I am a data protection specialist and I ask people for money


I help save lives every day, by raising funds to keep the … and then I went into much more detail about the charity I work for. Animatedly!  I moved around, I used different voice pitches, I changed tone and volume. All techniques valuable in the oral tradition of storytelling.

Following a discussion of what makes good storytelling (including ‘beginning, middle and end’), I then asked them to pair up and tell a story one to the other in three minutes. When it came to swapping over I gave them 2 minutes 30 seconds. Then I asked them to swap partners and tell their story in one minute (to cries of protest).  The point of this was to show that you have to focus on the key messages of a story, and build from there.

They seemed to enjoy the exercise as the room was noisy and excitable – a good sign in my book.
I finished the session by telling a story, and asking for criticism. They did really well, picking up on some of the key points that I had talked about and then omitted from my storytelling.  I hope they learned something useful.

From my point of view, I met interesting and intelligent women who I enjoyed entertaining and sharing with, and also improved my own performance thanks to their helpful feedback.
And the cake? It was delicious of course!

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Ghost stories
The people who went before
Useful links:
Cambridge Storytellers
Cambridge Ladybirds WI

Friday, February 16, 2018


It was our monthly Writer's Circle meeting last night and we had a 'write beforehand' exercise that we then shared and critiqued.  The theme was waking from a dream, and everything has changed. We had an extremely disturbing sci fi story, a ghost tale, a wonderful story about 'shoulder people' (from a truly stunning writer) to name but a few. As ever we had a fun night with much laughter and some excellent writing.  Here's my contribution:

My mind tossed in dreams like clouds in a whirlwind. The day before was hurting, tomorrow was a chill wind, brown was a circle and the sound of traffic became a warm touch.  My skin went cold and the prickles rose and grew - I saw a forest sprout from them and flood into a valley that sang.  Although asleep I knew that my world was changing.  The sound of birdsong, struggling to invade the cocoon of consciousness that kept me in that strange world, translated as the worn surface of an ancient oak chest. 

Finally awake, I opened my eyes. Last night I had slept poorly – a broken heart makes a difficult bedfellow.  Strands of dream tugged at my memory briefly as I slapped my phone in an effort to silence the brittle alarm. 

I lay in my bed for a moment, feeling the cool sheets on my bare skin. It felt… like chocolate.  As the night fog cleared from my brain I swung my legs over the edge of the bed to place them on the cold parquet floor. The wood seemed to suck warmth from my soles and sent a jolt like lightning up my legs. It felt as if every hair on them had been commanded to stand to attention, and a snatch of the vision of a forest growing before me briefly distracted my arousal into consciousness.

I stood and headed for the bathroom, my head spinning slightly.  The bathroom window, unshielded by curtain or blind, spilled white light into the room that felt like diamonds scraped across slate. Squinting, I looked at myself in the mirror. I was still me, hollow eyed and wan with sorrow, yet something had changed.  There was a brightness in my eyes that looked back at me with a challenge. There was a new dimension to what I saw, what I heard, what I felt.

Bravely I squirted paste onto my toothbrush and had the strange sensation of a white hare running on heather. I looked at the brush, at my face in the mirror, and started to brush my teeth.  Everything was normal and yet it was completely different – as if as an adult this was the first time I had done any of these things … waking, walking, touching, seeing.  The brush in my mouth was Tuesday’s meeting, my spit in the bowl was block and tackle, rope twisted and shining.

With the whole world evolving weirdly around me, I continued to get dressed and experienced everything on a different level.  My mind was desperately trying to assimilate new sensations attached to old experiences. I wasn’t sure how I’d get through the day. Surely this disorientation would pass?

Dressed, ready for work, I went downstairs and prepared breakfast – where a landscape painting, soft silk and ball bearings all contributed to the experience of eating cereal. Everything looked normal, and tasted normal, yet everything had a new dimension too.

I left the house, thoughts of the unceremonious dumping by my boyfriend, and the tumult of three days before – had Tuesday only been three days ago? – disappearing as I tackled the walk to the tube and negotiated my short commute with a world of new senses invading every single experience.  Could I continue like this?

I exited at Tower Bridge, and joined the throng towards our office. Glass, like a lambs bleat. Concrete, smoke over water.  The roar of traffic, flames on an open log fire. My phone buzzed – and the strong sense of purple was almost shocking. I looked at the message – from Aunt Emilia. Aunt Emilia, who could not say certain words because they felt like bricks in her throat. Aunt Emilia who was sensitive and fey, and yet the most creative, loving and extraordinary person I knew. Aunt Emilia, who – suddenly – I realised I understood. I thought this was a gift, or a curse, from birth. But it seemed for me, that a broken heart (and the smell of old wet paper pervaded) had triggered the condition.

I swung through the doors into the office and thought about James, his corduroy callousness, and a river of leather swept past.  I thought of how I would like to feel – happy, free, loved, and the painted wooden door of an old stone cottage swung shut in the breeze.  I started to choose how I felt and different images, sensations, tastes and smells pervaded my every step as I climbed the single flight of stairs and into our open plan office.  “Good morning!” I looked around and saw colour, tasted new and familiar things, the air was tangy with orange and pebbles.  A new day had truly begun.

(C) Carolyn Sheppard 2018

Useful links:

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Image (C) Royston Writer's Circle

Monday, February 12, 2018

Where's the fun in leadership?

At a fundraising conference last week one of the things the presenter said about leadership was ‘prepare to be lonely’.  I think depends on what type of leader you are and what kind of organisation you are in.   I think there’s probably a bit of ‘it’s no fun’ in the attribution of ‘lonely’ to leadership. But I’m ready to argue the point.

I am prepared for others to have ‘the fun’ and for me to enjoy that they are having it.  To be a leader you have to delegate, let your team have ownership and control of things that, in the past, you may have not only done, but really enjoyed doing!  Letting go of the detail doesn’t mean letting go of the fun though.

Let your team run with the fun, and I don’t think you will be lonely. You may have to make HR and other strategic decisions without them, but where you can, with their input.  Watching them flourish and create, and deliver on your overall strategy has to be your ‘fun’ – not the doing, but the achieving as a team.

I love seeing my team do great work, and have a boss that appreciates input from everyone. It really makes a difference in my motivation and I hope my team’s too.

I like being a leader. It isn't easy, but thanks to a great team above as well as below, I'm not lonely at all. And I'm having my portion of fun too. 

Feel free to comment below.

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Account overvdue

Goodness, its mid-February already and I haven’t blogged yet.  I’ve been busy, and lots has happened, so perhaps a short blog on fundraising is due - overdue!  So here's my account of yesterday's conference.

I attended ‘Fundraising Live’ – an opportunity for fundraising professionals to get together and share best practice, network and see what’s innovating in the sector.  It’s not just ‘another conference’ – I find real value in attending events like this where the content is from peers, not just suppliers and ‘look at mes’.

Two presentations really stood out to me yesterday – the first was from Plan International who realised that the expense and emotional commitment of sponsoring a child meant that it was costing more and more to recruit individuals for sponsorships.  They did some really in depth research that helped them identify a lower cost proposition that would increase sign up and, of course, mean more money for their cause – children in poverty.

Some might argue that spending money on research is taking donors’ money and not spending it on the children, but in fact what they have learned means that more money will reach the children in the longer term. As a sector we can’t spend 100% of donors’ money on beneficiaries – if we do we won’t improve, increase our effectiveness and help those who need it most. The money would quickly run out.

The second interesting presentation was from Greenpeace. They have used Virtual Reality to give people a sense of what it’s really like in environments like the Arctic and the rainforest. Amazing! With causes that deal with issues that are so far removed from our daily lives, something like this is a tremendous way to help bring people nearer to the cause and really understand why their help is needed. And it resulted in more sign ups to support too.

Sometimes people complain that fundraising is turning into just another profession – that it’s full of people who are in it for the career, and the money (really?), and complain that highly skilled, specialists get paid for what they do.  All I can say is that without us, picking up what the government has dropped (so many people I spoke to worked in social care, have lost funding, and are desperately trying to serve people in dire need), and taking notice and making a difference where it’s truly needed, then we would all notice very quickly indeed.

Running a charity, working for a charity, is a demanding and thoroughly difficult job, and it’s getting harder. Yet we all want to do it – because it is so rewarding. 

The final comment that struck home was about taking care of fundraisers. We have a high turnover and we have a high ‘burnout’.   This isn’t an easy profession, but together we change the world and make it a better place.  A day at a conference is not a waste of donor’s money – it’s helping to achieve that change that we all want to be.  I love my job, and I'm not ashamed of being paid to do it.


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