Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Philip Dwight Sheppard

Hi Phil

It's sort of hard to write you a letter when I don't know where you are - so this is my 'into the ether' letter to you.

There are times in your life when you love your brother, and times when siblings fight like cat and dog. When young we did have our fall-outs (I still remember the plasticine airplanes with pins in the end, and I'm sure you remember me hitting you over the head with a cricket bat), but mostly - it's having a friend who has shared some of your earliest memories.

We are still living in the same place, so you know where we are. I know you were last in Cornwall, and we did try to find you a couple of times, but without success. I guess I want to talk to you now because when old friends pass away, it does make you nostalgic.

Pam passed away last month at 87! Not bad going, eh? She didn't have a great time the last few years, but Sally regularly went to visit her and stayed in that huge house in Temple Fortune. Pam was born in that house - I know she wanted to die there, but they took her to hospital with a stroke and then after two weeks pneumonia got her. Yet another one who went into that particular hospital in London and never came out. I seem to have quite a collection of friends/relatives who make that their last stop.

She was born in that house, and never moved out though I'm sure lots of people would have rather seen her in a care-environment than struggling with those stairs and that kitchen in her less-mobile years. There is still the huge piano, I guess her cousin, Evelyn, will have to work out what to do with that! It must be in the will somewhere. It was a Bechstein, a lovely huge great thing.

She did play almost up to the end - but when she couldn't play properly any more it upset her so much she stopped.

Quite a few of our senior friends and family have passed away since we last talked - and it's been odd not to have you at the funeral. Angela went into hospital for a heart op (which she didn't come out from)a few years back and on the trolley going into theatre she said 'I could make a nice cocktail dress out of this' whilst looking at her hospital gown. That was SO Angela!

But this isn't a letter about telling you all the folks who have died (there have been plenty, but that's not surprising at our age, the next generation up are slowly filing out).

The kids are growing - in fact I can't call them kids any more. Alex is 19 and off to Uni. He's going to Lampeter where Phoebe went. And Mel is 16, studying for her A Levels at 6th form college.

Life is, as ever, full of changes. Shave the Monkey are doing another reunion next year (just two gigs in February), I'm playing with my music partner in Tu still, and hoping to get together with another guy to add bass to his rockier gigs at some point. If only I can find the time!

Well, time to start work now so I'll add more to this later. Maybe one day - you will actually read this. In which case, hey Phil, I miss you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Situational Awareness

On the train the other day I sat next to a man who had a huge iPad out, preparing slides for some talk he was giving. He was talking to his companion opposite and said 'I hope it won't be more than 40 slides'.

40 slides?!! OMG... death by PowerPoint! And, sad to say, as I sneaked a look out the corner of my eye, I could see all his slides filled with text.

You can picture it, I hope. A room full of people watching the screen, trying desperately to read blocks of text and totally missing whatever he was saying. And the best bit?

Oh the best bit was when I noticed the title of one slide... 'Situational awareness'.

If you have a chance, watch this YouTube, and you'll know exactly how to murder your audience with nothing more than a set of slides...


Cartoon borrowed from http://blogs.uct.ac.za/blog/call-me-cassandra/death-by-powerpoint With acknowledgment to Alex Gregory of The New Yorker.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A writing exercise

Here's my contribution following this evening's Royston Writers' Circle task. I was given a character description (the female lead below, with some pretty specific characteristics) and a setting (village fete). I didn't quite stick to the script, but I did get both in. Here goes!

The Bitch, the Pitch

Chantelle rolled out of bed to the sound of Chris Evans on Radio 2. "Bloody hell..." she muttered to herself. She hadn't used the radio setting on the alarm since Rudy had left!

She fumbled with the snooze button and buried her head under the pillow. In what seemed like just seconds, the radio perked into life again, playing some ancient 80s type trash. Just because Rudy had been into retro didn’t mean she’d have to put up with this shit anymore! Pulling herself upright in bed she twirled the radio dial… Capital. Oh well, better than that annoying twerp who’d first woken her.

She looked about the room: matching cool pastel shades, matching runner and cushions. Time for a change! At lunchtime she’d run over to that new shop in Regents Street just a short dash from the office.

After careful consideration she dressed herself in a Stella McCartney suit – her favourite outfit for impressing new clients. But then she paused, looking at the fabulous effect in the mirror, she realised that she’d worn this combo before when first pitching for the account. Oh no... with a groan and a cup of rooibosh tea in one hand, she returned to the wardrobe to make a new selection.

After 20 minutes on her hair, another 15 on her makeup and the wasted time changing outfits, she knew she was going to be late. Thank goodness it was only a ten minute cycle ride to the office. Ah – but today she wouldn’t have the time to change and do her hair again if she cycled and she didn’t want to go by tube – she always felt so grubby when she travelled on the underground. Tangled in this dilemma, she only just remembered to unplug her iPhone from its charger and throw it into her Louis Vuitton bag before racing out of the flat.

Without ruining the effect, she breezed into the office at ten past nine, a pleasant blush on her cheeks from the brisk walk. Mind you, her Jimmy’s had killed!

“Hi Chantelle,” Natalie on Reception welcomed her. “It’s ok, they aren’t here yet.” Chantelle blew a grateful kiss and tripped to the lift. A quick visit to the ladies, make sure all looks good stiil, and then to her office.

At 9.20 she turned on her laptop and waited impatiently as it slowly went through its own morning routine.

“Good morning Chantelle.” The firm voice behind her was not unexpected. She turned round with a radiant smile.

“Good morning Ben. All ready for the big meet?” Hah! She’d got in first, score one! A mental high five with herself would have been appropriate, but she didn’t have the time.
“Yes. They are here. Are you ready?”

“Of course.” She said, grabbing a file and a memory stick from her desk. Everything had been ready since 7pm last night.

She followed Ben into the boardroom, thinking – but not saying – that those socks just did not go with his suit or shoes. He opened the glass door and, in a show of gallantry, waved her in first.

She put on her best client smile and walked in. Already seated round the table were her new clients. Her heart skipped a little beat as her eyes met those of the handsome politician before her gaze slid over the rest of the entourage. She sat down and Ben began the pitch.

He was good, Ben, if a little sharp. Sometimes his attempts at humour shot wide, but his overview of the agency and their PR successes with some rather ‘difficult’ situations, as he tactfully put it, was impressive.

The politician shuffled in his seat, his side-kick almost squirming, as he waited for Ben to stop grandstanding and let them get to the matter in hand.

“And now let me introduce you to Chantelle, she’ll be...”
“Thank you.” Mr Politician said quickly. She felt a slight tautness in her throat and swallowed any option to speak.

“We want you because you are good at these things.” Said Jones, the right hand puppet. “And this is a very delicate, sensitive issue...”

The politician glared just hard enough for Jones to go quiet and turned to Ben and Chantelle.
“Let me explain,” he began quietly with menace and authority making his voice the most compelling she had ever heard. Her heart beat a little faster.

“I was caught screwing the deputy head-mistress of my daughter’s school behind the bike shed at the annual school fete. Now – tell me just how you are going to turn these photos..” and he threw an envelope onto the table with ‘The Sun’ postmark clearly on the front, “into a positive PR story?”

Bear in mind this story was written straight, in about 25 minutes, and I haven't edited here. I got a laugh but I also got the mock complaint that I am an 'actress' and I guess a lot of the fun of the story was in the telling. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story, short and silly as it was.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Falling for Henry

Red hair, good looking, athletic, young, doesn't say a lot and loves to be hugged. Who wouldn't fall for Henry? Well both Carol and I did on our weekend visit to Eastbourne where we met him.

Around 30 years ago Carol and I first met at Carnation Foods, in East Finchley. We were both in the marketing department for petfoods - specifically Go Cat and Go Dog (as well as some other dodgy stuff like marrow meal and a liquid slop for sick cats). We had a high time in those days, when corporate responsibility probably extended as far as 'how much wine should there be with the directors' lunch today?'.

So - thanks to certain on line social media - five of us got together again to relive old days and just find out how old we'd all grown. Carol and I, who have remained friends throughout the intervening years, drove down to Eastbourne on Saturday morning. We went the 'scenic route' which included as many road works as we could possibly find!
Three and a half hours later, in drizzling rain, we reached the seaside. Well, we reached the brand new harbour complex where Mike (my old boss) and his wife Linda now live. With Henry.

Norman, who we also used to work for, had already arrived when we turned up at Mike and Linda's. Norm has the dubious honor of being responsible for two out of the five times I really lost my temper in my life! He's mellowed, shall we say? I guess so have I.

We had a pleasant lunch and caught up a little on 'old times'. My! The things that the bosses did that we didn't know about! And it's funny how they've forgotten the dart board and rowing machine in the store cupboard and the lunchtime Scrabble games.

Mike showed us the sights of Eastbourne - taking us to Pevensey Castle, the old church at West Ham, the pier, and then driving us over to Beachy Head. However, the drizzle which was by now solid cloud, meant we couldn't even see the side of the road, let alone any views. Henry came with us. The love affair began...

We went back to the house and had a lovely lunch, and awaited the arrival of Mark, the other team member who had managed to attend this extraordinary meeting of the Pet Foods Division, Carnation Foods, 1979-81. Mark duly arrived an hour late, which is not that late for him we are told. We caught up on some stories about Nick (you weren't there, but we found out lots!), Chris, Reg and Keith and started, bizarrely, a body count. The more stories we told, the more people we knew who were now dead. By the end of a delicious curry cooked by Linda, we were up to around 78.

The evening continued with some wine, a trip to the station (to return Norman to London) and a bit of music. Many, many years ago Mike, Bryan and I had played in a band together: 'Mike Mucous and the Membranes'. We sang a little, played a little, but mostly we talked.

At around 1am we headed for bed. Carol and I shared a room and talked a bit longer, of all things about our fathers. But in the morning - the sun came streaming through the window and there was no way either of us could sleep in.

At 7.30am Sunday morning we were both wide awake. By 8am we were up, dressed and heading out the door with Henry. We didn't know the area at all, but Henry did. He took us straight to the beach, then along the harbour, all round the marina and then back to the house. We had no need to worry, he knew exactly where to go. I think that's where he fell for Carol - when I went back to the side road to deposit the duly delivered bag of litter, he stayed by her side until I reappeared.

We didn't exactly kidnap Henry, he came with us willingly enough (one sight of the lead and he was ours!) but when we got back to the house, Linda and Mike had gone to the beach ('where's Henry?' the usual walkers kept asking them?). We set out again to meet them coming back.

The weather this morning was fine and warm, a beautiful blue sky creating the most amazing backdrop to the beach and the scenery. Mike and Linda took us out for a drive - first into Eastbourne where we parked Carol's car (explanation later) and then on, in theirs, to Beachy Head.
This time the views were spectacular! And, of course, with approximately one suicide per week, we upped our body count considerably (by now we were counting friends of friends, and would have even accepted third party referrals if we could only get above 100!).

Beachy Head is beautiful - why do people choose this place to end their lives? I guess it's not just all the media coverage and the history it has of suicides, but also the fact that it is a beautiful place to make your exit.
After the trip to Beachy Head we drove to see the Wilmington Long Man. He's a bit like the Cerne Abbas Giant, but without certain distinctive features.
After that we were dropped back in Eastbourne and went to visit Carol's relative, Robert. He lives (at the weekends) in a beautiful apartment in a 1930's Art Nouveau block at the posh end of town. In his 70's he is very active and still working. He's a researcher on British government and Empire documents. I'd never met the man before but we spent a lovely two hours with him.
Heading home we went the 'other way' and saved a whole hour on the journey back! I really appreciated Carol driving - and enjoyed arguing with the SatNav (as I always do). It was a lovely weekend, full of talk and good food and good company. The lovely Henry, though, stole both our hearts.
To see more photos, visit my Facebook page

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bad dreams

Mostly my dreams are just colourful - but last night they involved terrorists, murder (I can still clearly see the side of a child's head split on a bullet exit) and earthquakes.

I started out with another person to get a drink (I was thirsty in reality, later got up and had some water). I knew it would be alright for us to go out as we weren't in uniform.

We came to the shop which was by the border. The shop shook and trembled, foods falling off shelves - we could see this through the huge glass sides. The other person in my dream was no longer there, but I was surrounded by a border terrorist group. They would not let me go. The leader of the group said I could not go as I had seen their faces. They were young, not more than teenagers really.

They were camped out between the pillars of broken buildings. They were just heating up needles ready for torture when I woke from that part of the dream.

I had my water, went back to sleep. Then my dream included the child being shot - in a darkened room. Trying to escape from the terrorists and someone else, an older man, being shot in the chest, but this time a small wound as the gun was against his chest in a fight.

So, given that I like to analyse dreams sometimes, what might this mean? I don't know. I think it is not very nice. It's now nearly 2pm and I still can't shift the images from my mind.