Thursday, June 30, 2022

Goosemilk and goatfeathers

 “Hail!” The King looked bored by the formal salutation the slave yelled loudly, as if to give it more gravitas than his voice could naturally command.  But said in that ridiculous Southern accent, the King couldn’t help but smirk behind his hand.

“What news from the valleys, slave?” He knew full well the man’s name was Garrad, but it was part of his policy of remaining aloof to know the names of, but not to acknowledge, the more strategically useful of his inferiors.

“Oh mighty King, ruler of the four lands, giver of hope and...” the King peered at Garrad and leaned forward in his throne rather menacingly.

“Just tell me the news, slave.”

Verging on panic, Garrad cleared his throat and stood up as straight as he could.  His beautiful bronze skin shone like a tiger’s pelt in the streaks of sun that dived through the long gaps in the stone that served for windows. 

“There is trouble in the South, oh great one.”  A harrumph from the King prompted Garrad to continue rapidly.

“There has been a plague of dust that has coated the corn, and the crops wither.”  The King’s brows furrowed, his pale cheeks beginning to redden with anger.

“Oh my King, we have done all we can, we have prayed to you for rain to wash away the dust, but in the South we... we did not expect the ...” the King shifted in his seat and leaned even further forward. Seated a meter above Garrad on his high throne, the effect was mortifying.  Garrad stuttered

“we, we, we don’t know why but the rain won’t come. And, and and..” the King’s patience was growing thin and Garrad feared that it may be the messenger who was blamed for the message.  His brief, uneventful life seemed to be standing by his side in the form of a miniature of himself, laughing and pointing as if to say ‘and it all comes down to this?!’

Garrad fell to his knees. “We have no taxes to bring you – the crops have failed. Our people are starving.”  The King sat back, his face clearing a little as he entered a realm of slightly more considered thought.  Garrad trembled before him, as he should, his eyes cast to the ground.

“And... my King...” the Royal brows furrowed again, wondering what other disaster this petty excuse for a human being wished to lay upon his beloved King!  “the animals are behaving oddly.”  He said the last almost in a whisper so that the words drifted up like the motes of dust caught in the shafts of sunlight.

There was a deathly quiet.  It must have lasted ten or more seconds – but to Garrad it felt like the time it took for a sword to descend upon his poor neck.  But no physical blow was received.  Just a jolt as the King quietly, and most penetratingly, asked one simple question:

“And what do you mean by that?”

Garrad looked up.  With what he had seen over the last month, and on the week long journey it had taken to reach the King, he realised that there was nothing more he could fear.  He stood, brazenly, and looked the King as close to in the eye as he could whilst looking up at such an angle.

“My King, strange things have happened. First the dust, then the heavy clouds that hang over us but do not rain.  The skies are dark and the air is...” Garrad didn’t quite know how to explain it – his vocabulary was fine when it came to cattle, to crops, to people. But this was something more, he felt, within the realm of the Priests and beyond his understanding let alone his ability to explain.  He did his best.

“The air tastes wrong. The animals are unhappy and they are behaving differently.” The King remained quiet. Garrad was not sure whether this was a good sign or the calm before the storm, but he knew he had to explain why he brought no taxes from the South.  Garrad continued “the animals are also changing.” He paused.  This would take some explaining. He wished now that he had brought more than one of the geese with him to show the King just what he meant, but the animal had died shortly after he left the South and its corpse had spoiled so quickly it was not possible even to eat it!

The King leaned down “What do mean?”  Garrad gulped anxiously, but stood his ground.

“The animals are ... “ (he didn’t know the word ‘metamorphosing’, it would have been helpful if he had) ”... doing weird things.  They are changing shape, and growing feathers and fur and just not behaving normally!  Our village elder was attacked by a chicken that grew fangs” Garrad’s voice faltered as he realised how ridiculous he sounded.

The King sat back. A smile played across his face. Ah... so this was how the South were going to get out of their tithe!  A tall story; did they really think he’d fall for such nonsense?

Garrad continued to ramble, talking of goosemilk and goatfeathers, hens teeth and mares nests. The King made a discreet signal to his guards (who were permanently stationed behind the plinth upon which his majestic throne rested).   

“Take him to the torture chamber.  And when he is suitably reminded of to whom he is speaking and whom he serves, find out what he and his Southern scum have done with our tithe.”

This was duly done, and poor Garrad died far more quickly than his torturers anticipated, giving them angst in anticipation of the King’s anger.

“My King,” the head torturer said. “We have found all we need to know from the slave Garrad.”

“Who?” the King asked nonchalantly, as if it was of no great concern, though in fact he was more than a little worried that the camel trains of grain had not arrived as usual.
“The slave from the Southlands.”  The King raised an acknowledging eyebrow. “We have learned that he has traded with the foreigners from the Great Continent. They have taken your tithe!”

The King frowned (a popular look, for him).  “Does this mean war, then?”  He was not actually asking the torturer, more asking himself rhetorically.  After a few moments consideration, he said

“Go to the Guard. We will venture South and take what is rightfully ours!”  The Head Torturer disappeared quickly, eager to fulfil the King’s wishes and glad that he himself had not been subject to a more thorough inquisition.

The King did not go with the army to the South. But in time he did hear of the clouds that hung over the southern lands, and strange stories of animals - and the people themselves - behaving most unnaturally.  Few of the regiment he sent returned, and those that did brought such stories as to beggar belief.  But he still wanted his corn, for the lords and dukes of his City needed feeding.  Perhaps, he thought, they could drink goosemilk?

(C) Carolyn Tyrrell-Sheppard - originally written in 2016

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Memory triggers

The real Kempton
I took my mother Sally to see 'The Duke' - a film about Kempton Bunton, and the theft of the famous painting of the Duke of Wellington by Goya. It was a lovely film set in the 1960s. It was fun to see the original footage of the 60s, with Jim Broadbent added, and the whole timbre of the film gave you a real sense of the period.

At one point in the film, a reference was made to the Dr No film (which briefly showed the painting, implying maybe Dr No stole it!), and Sean Connery, suave and smooth as ever, gives it more than a passing glance.

Mother and I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and on driving her back home, it had obviously triggered lots of memories. "He took me in his arms and kissed me" - she was referring to Sean Connery who, in his early days, used to regularly drink in a pub in London frequented by actors (including my dad amongst others). "What did dad say when Sean snogged you?" I asked. "Oh, he did it nicely; he kissed all the girls." 

Connery in the 60s
Mother has often said that Sean was a great one for networking and drinking with the 'right people', whilst my dad came home to his wife and (by the mid 60s) his two children. Is that why my dad was less successful than Sean? Well, maybe the looks had something to do with it too. 

The memories continued, and she reminisced that Alec Ross had been dad's best man at their wedding. She went to Alec and Sheila Hancock's wedding on the train, with Sheila's agent, Miriam (and she can't remember the surname). She thinks Anthony was away at rep somewhere, and met him there. 

Years later my dad, Anthony, saw Alex, and he ignored him. It wasn't long after that Alec passed away - too young. Sheila, however, is still going strong today - and I wonder if she remembers Sally?

I must do more to capture Sally's stories, she started her career at Stratford working with Sir John Geilgud and Richard Burton, Vivien Leigh and ... she drops so many famous names that I have to sweep up afterwards! 

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Apologies to the copyright owners of the photographs, I couldn't identify original sources. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Mentoring

I'm an 'old hand' in the fundraising world, I started in the not for profit sector back in the 90s! I've worked in higher education, conservation, medical research and emergency medicine charities, and all have been unique and invaluable experiences. I've focused on individual giving, but also done major donor fundraising, legacy marketing, trusts and foundation fundraising, and a little bit of community and corporate fundraising. I was writing in the fundraising media about GDPR in 2014 (trying to raise awareness of what was coming), and been a compliance champion both for data protection and gambling regulations (for charities). In other words, I've had a very well-rounded fundraising career to date. 

I don't just do fundraising

I'm not bragging, I'm setting out the scenario for why I have been mentoring other fundraisers for some time. My most recent mentee was in major giving; I was asked if I would support them by their director. I have to say it was a hugely rewarding process because discussing plans, ideas, and results with a different charity (and a different role to my current one) not only helped the mentee but also helped me think more about my own role and charity. The mentee did extremely well and I saw their confidence grow rapidly.  Our mentoring partnership has now finished and they have moved on to another charity. I know the mentee is happy, but not sure about their director - I don't think developing them out of the organisation was the plan.

But that, again, is what I love about the charity sector. We see the benefit in developing individuals who continue to contribute to the sector - who grow, and in turn grow the charities they work for, which - in the end - benefits everyone.

If you are considering mentoring, don't worry about whether you are expert enough - the conversations will soon show you how you can add value. And most of all, mentoring is as rewarding for the mentor as it is for the mentee. 

There are plenty of resources out there advising how to select a mentor, the dos and don'ts of mentoring, and how to record and track progress (eg goal setting, stretch goals, habit forming goals etc). It doesn't have to take a lot of time - an hour a month perhaps.

Please consider mentoring, and not just in your discipline - you will be amazed how you can support others and watch them grow, and enjoy your own development too. If you think you'd like to be a mentor, or have a mentor, then talk to your network, talk to your HR manager, but never be afraid to ask.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Two farewells and a welcome

My first farewell is to my wonderful son. He has gone to Australia to be a fully fledged citizen. He's got the long floppy blonde hair, he can surf, and everything!  Although I am of course sad that my son won't be just two hours away by car, I am so excited and pleased for him. He is going on the sort of adventure that, if I was just a little bit younger, I'd love to go on myself. He has a lovely partner, an amazing Australian family who have made him one of their own, and a whole exciting future to plan and enjoy. And, of course, we will get to go and visit him. I can't wait to get to Australia again and see more of that amazing country - and of course get to see my son. I may even visit Judy, my 'cousin' - the granddaughter of my father's half-brother who emigrated when he was just 16. 

With Alex leaving for Australia, our final ties to the market town of
Royston
have been severed. The little house that I loved renting, and then provided a home for Alex too, has gone back to its owner, and the kind neighbours and friends we made are left behind. But I have so many happy memories - not just of the last few years, but of the many I spent in that town where my children grew up and where I was a PTA committee member (two schools), a member of the local Writers Circle, and generally a happy resident. Royston is special in its own way - it is on the crossroads of two ley lines, the Greenwich Meridian and the two oldest Roman Roads in Britain. There is the unique Royston Cave, lovely Priory Gardens (where  my children learned to cycle) and - once upon a time - there was a swimming pool and cinema. Royston changed, I changed, we all change. Although I also spent some dark time there, the familiarity of the town and the people in it was a comfort then. My memories of Royston will be good.

My final welcome is to my second grandchild, a little girl born in February. There is nothing that marks time passing like children. You can be married for years and nothing seems to change, but have a child and every month milestones are reached, and you notice the weeks, months and years. You have a comparison in your life that is unmatched. My babies are adults, my daughter a parent herself, and I am delighted to welcome this beautiful little girl.

These are hard times. There is a war on which I fear is only the start of bigger, and worse, things. There is more financial pressure on families and the economy than there has been for generations. Covid is still here and very present, and still making people ill and taking lives. I have a limited contract of work and will be job hunting again soon. Nothing stays the same. 

At times like this, when there are so many dark clouds on the horizon, then I look to the good things in my life; I have a job now, I have a wonderful (albeit far flung) family, an amazing wife, I live in a beautiful place and have many good friends. Things may change, things will change. This is life. Treasure it. 

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Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Tales from a fundraiser

When working for a dementia charity, I oversaw training our agencies, including telephone fundraisers. This was way before the pandemic, and even before GDPR, so we could meet in person and could ‘cold’ call using data that had been sourced with the right permissions. 

Photo from EngageEmployee.com
Before the callers arrived, I plugged in my presentation and set up the room. It was boardroom style. I took every chair in the room and turned it round – so the back of the chair was to the table. The callers came in and all looked confused, should they turn the chair round? Should they sit in it as it was?
 
They milled around for a bit, and I said ‘Good morning. How do you feel?’ And they all replied “Confused” (by the chair positions) and asked me what they should do. ‘Sit down please’. Some sat with the chairs facing outwards, some sat and moved the chairs towards the desk, or towards me. This confusion was exactly what I wanted to achieve. ‘Great,’ I said. ‘Now you get just the tiniest insight into how someone with dementia feels every day.’ I then went into my formal training presentation, starting with ‘how many of you know someone or have a family member with dementia?’ – sadly nearly all the hands went up. 

The chair rearrangement was a small ‘trick’, but it prefixed a highly successful calling campaign (one of the callers themselves became a donor). If you can get your fundraisers – whether they are agency or staff – to think from your beneficiaries’ perspective for even a short while, then you stand a much better chance of them being more invested in a positive outcome from their efforts. Which, in the end, is better for everyone - from the recipient of the call to the charity beneficiary. 

Useful links 

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

Think before you...

Photo (C) courtesy of MDUK
I listened to a short radio interview today - a young woman with a muscle-wasting condition, talking about the 'microaggressions' she experiences as a person who uses walking aids. It really made me think - how often have you seen someone in a powered chair and thought or said 'Oh, I could do with one of those!'?  And the person using it would have swapped with you in a heartbeat to not have a disabled body.

The term 'microaggression' is an interesting one, and I found this definition: 

"They're something very specific: the kinds of remarks, questions, or actions that are painful because they have to do with a person's membership in a group that's discriminated against or subject to stereotypes. And a key part of what makes them so disconcerting is that they happen casually, frequently, and often without any harm intended, in everyday life."

Have I been guilty of microaggressions? Almost certainly. So how does it happen? This is my take: the unconscious bias kicks in, and the conscious tries to balance it out, and the result can be a microaggression that you are totally unaware of. 

With unconscious bias, the key is to make it known - if you have an underlying and maybe even unrecognised prejudice (and we all have them, no matter how woke we may think we are!), then you are halfway to being able to think before you speak and hopefully avoid that microaggression. 

Another thing that Louise said was about the 'pity smile' - a smile that is given which is born from another's attempt at empathy, but falls flat as a pancake. What I have taken away from Louise's conversation with BBC Radio Scotland (listen from 1:45:30) is that I need to think before I make assumptions and not apply my values to someone else's situation without understanding or considering their perspective.

Learn more:

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Friday, December 31, 2021

It's nearly over

But it's only just beginning really.

My son and grandson
2020 and 2021 have been challenging years in so many ways, but 2021 is nearly over and 2022 beckons. It's unbelievable really - the last few years have been so different. We will have to live with this new Covid world for some time, I believe, before it normalises into (what some already call it), a flu-like condition that we can treat and manage similarly. 

This Christmas I was able to see my family - which is wonderful compared to last year when so many of us were locked-down and couldn't see those we love if we didn't live with them. My delightful grandson is nearly three, and in 6 weeks time I will have another grandchild. Well, more accurately, my daughter will have another child.  And in February, 2022, my son will emigrate to Australia and become a permanent resident. He will join  his wonderful partner who lives out there, and embark on a whole new life.

And what will 2022 hold for my wife and I? We don't know yet, but fingers crossed it's better than the last few years have been what with us both having cancer, and then the pandemic hitting us all.

So 2021 is nearly over, and 2022 is just about to begin, but most importantly every day is a day to be treasured. I treasure the time we spend together sitting quietly, or playing a board game, or cooking together. Walks in the woods with the woofers, playing our guitars together, even falling asleep in front of the TV. I treasure the moments with my family, my friends, and even strangers when we meet and share a moment, whatever that may be. 

So for 2022 I wish you all peace, happiness and health, and for those of you who have lost a loved one, I send love and support. 

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