A Working Life I: The Early Years

Last month marked the end of my official full-time employment. This used to be called “retirement” but neither my past working life nor my future activities are so easily compartmentalized. I never really “began work” in a career role until I was in my 30’s and don’t expect to spend my future on the golf course or fishing.

However, as a way of taking stock, I decided to draw up a list of all my paid employment I can remember since my first evening newspaper round in England when I was thirteen.

To make this project manageable, and hopefully easier for you to read, I’ll take my working life a stage at a time, starting with the early years.

The Early Years

1963-65: Evening Newspaper delivery, Wistaston, Cheshire. This was my first paid job. My parents didn’t approve of me working the more lucrative morning paper round because it might make me late for school (so they said) so I jumped on my bike each weekday evening after school and cycled the leafy lanes of my home town delivering the Sentinel. This came to an end when we moved to Shavington.

Old_Farm_Shavington1965-68: Weekend farm laborer, Jack’s Old Farm, Weston Lane, Shavington, Cheshire. I mucked out the cows in winter and helped bring in the hay in summer. Some highlights were rat catching among the sacks of grain, holding down the bullocks while they were castrated and the smell of fresh milk in the dairy. After work my Mum would make me take my jeans and shirt off outside the back door and jump in the bath to get rid of the smell of cow muck. I was, as John Fowles noted in the opening chapter of Daniel Martin:

“…a boy in his midteens, his clothes unsuited, a mere harvest helper…all life to follow…collecting this day, pregnant with being. Unharvested, yet one with this land…Inscrutable innocent, already in exile.”

Fine Fare, Crewe1969-70: Shelf Stocker, Fine Fare Supermarket, Crewe, Cheshire: In my final couple of years in Grammar School I worked an eight-hour day each Saturday at one of the only two supermarkets in town. I was paid 19/6 which was less than £1 and while a pound was worth more then than today it was still piss-poor wages. However, us Saturday boys from the Grammar School got to hang out with the full-time workers who’d left school at 16 and shared a slice of their lives from the other side of the tracks. We stocked the shelves and talked about sex.

Butlins1970: Waiter, Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Pwllheli, North Wales: together with my school friends Alan and Bryan (pictured), Richard and Steve, we waited tables and worked as bar staff in the evenings for the happy campers in this uniquely English working-class holiday-cum-prison camp. Room and board (in a double-bunk chalet), a small stipend, and a summer of love that was a prelude to University passed in a drunken haze.

Next up, I work a couple of part-time jobs in England before moving to America to teach undergraduates, drive a cab and sell shoes.

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Mum and Dad

My parents funeral took place on January 30, 2018 at Crewe Crematorium. This is the eulogy I read in celebration of their lives.

Mum and Dad

Shakespeare wrote in his play The Tempest:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on / And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Mum and Dad were together for over 70 years and rounded out their lives when, both aged 97, they passed away together earlier this month. Over the course of their very long lives they saw many, many changes.

Mum was born on June 10, 1920 in the leafy Nottingham suburb of West Bridgeford. We always knew when it was her birthday because they played God Save the Queen on the radio, not for Gwen, but coincidentally it was also the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday on June 10, he was a year younger than Gwen, born in 1921. Another coincidence is that 53 years ago today, on January 30, 1965, the largest funeral since the end of the war took place in London, when Winston Churchill was honored at St Paul’s. Our memorial today is a lot smaller, but no less significant for those of us here today.

Gwen was 15 when her Dad moved the family to Derby where he told her, “y’know, girls don’t really need to go to school, so you should probably find a job…” In some ways, she already did have a job. She had to mind Jack, her younger brother, most evenings, while her parents made the rounds collecting payments from the mining families they sold clothes to. Years later, she vowed to always be at home when her own children came home from school, and not leave them in an empty house. Her first job outside the house did not last long. She had a position with the Post Office transcribing telegrams for delivery, until a supervisor noticed she had atrocious spelling – something I’ve inherited.

During the war she worked as a PT instructor and helped build scale models of the French coastline that were used to train troops for the liberation of Europe.

She met Dad at Rolls Royce in Derby where he worked in the drawing office at the aircraft engine division and she was what was known as a tracer. He would offer her a lift after work on the back of his motorbike to her parents’ house on Hillsway where she was living. They were married on Feb 10, 1949 in St. Peter’s Church, Littleover. It would have been their 69th wedding anniversary in a fortnight.

Mum was the bedrock of the family. She kept her promise to always be there when Elaine and I got home from school. For many years she was the lunchtime cook at the Horseshoe Inn in Willaston where, rain or shine, she’d ride her moped the mile and a half there and back. Her most famous customer was probably the comedian Frankie Howard who stayed at the Inn when he appeared at the Town Hall in Nantwich one year.

Mum might have served chips with everything to Frankie and her lunchtime customers, but at home she was always conscious of feeding the family healthy food. I remember she started making her own yoghurt in the early 1960’s. I mean, who’d even heard of yogurt back then? For many years she always had a crop of alfalfa sprouts going on the kitchen counter. While Les could put food away like nobody’s business, she was frugal in her diet, her lunch was often just a Ryvita and an apple.

Gwen was also adept at crafts: making lampshades, arranging flowers and kitting. All her grandchildren – Christopher, Emily and Neil – were kept warm as babies with her hand knitted jumpers.

She was a stoic, uncomplaining, Derbyshire lass. My cousin Philip has researched the Adshead family (her maiden name) and found they were originally silk-weavers from Cheshire, before that industry collapsed. And so, by way of Nottingham and Derby, she returned to county of her ancestors.

Macular degeneration slowly robbed her of her sight over the last 15 years, and her hearing was not what it once was. But Gwen soldiered on: cooking, brewing endless cups of tea, washing up and generally making sure Les behaved himself in the house. Eventually, they left their bungalow at The Beeches and moved into the warm and caring environment of Brookfield House.

When she slipped away on the afternoon of Tuesday January 16th Les was asleep in bed with a chest infection. Mercifully, he did not wake up to ever hear of Gwen’s passing until he, too, passed away in his sleep at noon the very next day.

Les was born in Oulton, Staffordshire on January 1, 1921. His family go back generations in those parts, all the way to the Norman Conquest when the French nobleman De Gryphon settled in Staffordshire. He was so clearly identified with that part of England that, on their first trip to visit me in America in the late 1970’s, a chap on the ‘plane heard him chatting to Mum, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, ‘What part of Staffordshire are you from?” (This is something that always astounds the Americans I tell that story to.)

Les was taught in a two-room schoolhouse in Oulton and left school at 14 to pursue his engineering education at night school. He earned his UEI certificates in engineering drawing in 1938 and was a draughtsman in the war while also serving in the Home Guard (very rightly called Dad’s Army) during the war. His work then took him to Rolls Royce in Derby and to his wife-to-be.

After they were married, Gwen and Les first rented a flat in Crich, a safe 17 miles north of the in-laws, and then bought their first home in Horsley where they kept chickens in a huge garden and set about starting a family. Just before I was born he transferred with Rolls to the car division in Crewe, where they moved into their first house at number 2 Clyde Grove in 1952. In 1957 they moved to a semi in Sandylands, Wistaston, just off Church Lane, which Les bought for the princely sum of £2,000.

Les was extremely handy and loved tinkering at a succession of “blinking jobs”. He kept a series of second-hand cars roadworthy: rebuilding engines, re-boring cylinders, adjusting spark plugs and so on. I can still remember the license plate of his beloved Morris Minor – HWM 775. It was a constant battle. Our annual holiday trips to North Wales often involved long stop-overs at garages in the depths of Snowdonia waiting for a replacement radiator hose to be fitted that would allow us to continue the journey to the caravan at Black Rock Sands or the holiday cottage in Borth-y-Gest where we’d join my cousins Michael and Philip and their parents Marjorie and Jack.

Those cars also took us every Easter and Christmas on the long road from Crewe to Stone where we visited his Mum and his sister Rita’s family: Margret, David and Andrew are here today. Then onto Derby and Gwen’s parents and our other cousins. We’d count the Christmas trees on the way there and sometimes stop for fish and chips from a van outside the Swan with Two Necks on the way back.

Les loved his music and he’d hum along to Sing Something Simple on the car radio. Bing Crosby was a particular favorite and he knew the lyrics of many of the crooners’ hits by heart.

Dad worked tirelessly on DIY projects, wallpapering and painting a succession of homes in Wistaston, Shavington, Winterley and The Beeches in Nantwich. He converted attics into bedrooms, erected garden sheds and much, much more.
Les was admittedly accident prone. He was famously late for my cousin Philips wedding having driven the car clear across a roundabout on the journey there. His excuse? “Well, it wasn’t there last time I drove along that road!”. Never at a loss for a project, he also tried my wife Sandra’s patience on a visit to spend the holidays with us in America when he decided to build a shelf behind the cooker just as she was getting the turkey ready for the oven on Christmas morning.

He had a life-long interest in photography and when they moved out of the Beeches I sorted through a vast collection of over 6,000 photos he’d taken over the years. Following his retirement, Les took up art with his usual passion and dedication to detail. His architecturally precise paintings of Church’s Mansions and other Nantwich landmarks hang in our homes today.

Throughout their time together, Gwen and Les enjoyed their lives to the full. They visited many parts of the UK in their caravan, spent wonderful holidays in Ireland with Sandra’s parents. Richard, Sandra’s brother, and his wife Dierdra are over from Limerick. They visited National Trust gardens around the country, including, of course, those at Dorfold Hall their son-in-law Nigel and my sister Elaine maintain so well. On multiple trips to America they visited Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, Death Valley, New England and many other scenic spots.

I’d like to specifically thank Elaine and Nigel for the support they provided to Gwen and Les. If it was not for them, our parent’s final years would have been much different. Thank you.

However, as a wise man once said, all good things come to an end. When life had run its course, Les, ever the gentleman, let Gwen pass through the doorway before him, if only by a few hours. Many people have remarked how beautifully appropriate it is that a couple who were together so long were together at the end. It seems a very acceptable way to die.

I’ll leave you with another quote:

Death is utterly acceptable to consciousness and life. There has been endless time of numberless deaths, but neither consciousness nor life has ceased to arise. The felt quality and cycle to death has not modified the fragility of flowers, even the flowers within the human body.

Thank you all for coming to celebrate the 97 years Gwen and Les spent on the earth. Unlike the flowers, their memory won’t fade.

Those were my prepared remarks. However, earlier this week I spoke with Gavin and Max, the funeral directors. They explained that Gwen and Les will be placed in the Rose Garden behind the crematorium. A hole will be dug in the flower beds and our parent’s ashes will be placed in the earth. This reminded me of the lyrics to an Irish musician Bob Geldof’s song on the 1992 album ‘The Happy Club’. It wouldn’t have been Les’s cup of tea, in fact you probably couldn’t get further away from Bing Crosby. The words seem very appropriate given what Gavin and Max told me. So I’ll leave you with ‘The Soft Soil’:

Let the soil be your soft pillow
The grassy blanket keep you warm
Let the leafy branches cool you
And the blue skies keep you from all harm
Let the wind keep fresh your memory
Let it blow across the land
Let the rain refresh your spirit
Let the damp earth hold your hand.

Now the evening sun is racing on
Lying flat on wintery fields
It carries on its restless winds
The sounds of fifty church bells pealing.

And all the bells you’ve ever heard
Are ringing out for wat you’ve done
Like all the dreams in all the world
You’re shining reckless like the sun.

This video is a memorial to their lives.

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The 2018 Cicero Speechwriting Awards – A conversation with David Murray

CiceroMore than 2,000 years ago, Cicero called rhetoric a “great art.” Since then, staggering advances in mass communication haven’t diminished the transformative power of a great speech.

And the Cicero Speechwriting Awards recognize the speechwriters and the speakers who make it great.

Presented by Vital Speeches of the Day, the prestigious monthly collection of speeches, the Cicero Speechwriting Awards recognize the work that makes the speeches that help leaders lead—in every sector of business, politics and society.

In this podcast I talk with VSOTD editor David Murray about what makes a speech Cicero Award material, and the changes he’s seen over the last dozen years that the Awards have been given. To hear what David said, simply click on the podcast icon below.

Click here to enter the 2018 Cicero Speechwriting Awards today.

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White House staffers resettle in Silicon Valley

Silicon ValleyKudos for the FT’s Hannah Kuchler for reporting on the number of Obama-era White house staffers who’ve gone West and taken up lucrative speechwriting and communications roles in Silicon Valley.

She notes that the talent from DC is a match made in heaven for Silicon Valley companies. There was always a simpatico feeling between leaders in tech and Democrats (with notable exceptions such as Republican ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers and libertarians including Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and VC Peter Thiel). However, Kuchler notes that when Obama left office what had been a trickle became a flood:

Previously, tech companies had hired former Obama speechwriters and advisers, and a few Republicans. But last year came the flood: Facebook hired people who had worked on strategic communications for the National Security Council, trade policy and judicial nominations; Uber took on a special assistant from the office of international economic affairs; start-ups hired former Michelle Obama advisers on innovation and cyber-security policy.

These West Wing operatives will prove their worth if they are able to stem the backlash against the likes of Uber and Facebook as they struggle to win the hearts and minds of regulators worldwide.

Those of us who’ve written for the tech industry for years welcome the new blood, there’s a place for you in the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable!

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Creative Video for Communicators

Brian WalterThis Saturday I attended the annual Presidents Day meeting of the National Speakers Association Northern California Chapter. As a past Chapter President (2008-09) I was invited to the meeting where the current national president, Brian Walter, CPAE, CSP held a brilliant workshop modestly titled ‘A Bazillion Extreme Ways to Use Video DURING Your Speeches’.

This was just as impressive as his 2011 Extreme Meetings presentation. He covered a wide range of options for the use of video by speakers and trainers with his typical infectious humor.

Why video? It’s for when your audience gets sick of you! It brings the real world into the artificial environment of a ‘meeting bubble’.

Brian began with some basic, very solid, advice:

  • Avoid streaming video over the hotel WiFi.
  • Instead, embed video in your slides (which he did throughout his 3-hour presentation).
  • Don’t project pixiliated ‘crappy video’ (as downloaded from YouTube or captured on a phone) full-screen. Instead, shrink it down to occupy a small part of your presentation screen, embedded in a slide background — such as a smartphone or monitor screen image.
  • Break up clips into short segments and turn each into a point to make in your talk.

Brian then explained the range of options (not a bazillion, but more than a few) for using video, from simple to elaborate. Absent his many examples these may not seem as impressive on the page as they were shown onscreen, but each is worth exploring.

Crowd-sourced video

Procurement TubeThis is harvested from the folks within an organization and embedded into a smartphone image (allowing for portrait or landscape source to be shown). It can be made into a parody video which can, in fact legally use images such as the YouTube logo if styled as, say, “Procurement (Department) Tube”

As-is Video

Licensed stock video clips from sources such as istockphoto can be purchased once and used over and over.

Libraries of commercials available for license from sources such as TVAds or, depending on the proposed use, from YouTube directly (assuming you are not going to embed the ad in product for sale, which commercial company could possibly object you showing an advert that was, in fact, designed to sell?). Brian made the point that the emotional charge of showing an advert to an audience is unique, since even those who might have seen it before will not have done so in a group setting where the impact is magnified. His example was the hilarious EDS cat herding Superbowl commercial (if you have not seen it, take a second…). Point is, EDS no longer exists, so ‘fair use’ is unlikely to be challenged.

Movie and TV clips can legally be shown if a speaker obtains an annual $625 umbrella license from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation. Reinforcing Brian’s point they state:

Conference organizers and Public Speakers understand that movie scenes have the power to bring a presentation to life. The magic of the movies allows a presenter to stand out from the crowd and unleash his or her creativity without limitations. What better way to illustrate a point than by incorporating the perfect movie scene? More importantly, movies can do more than simply enhance a presentation, they can help create a more engaging and entertaining experience that holds an audience’s attention.

One license allows you to legally show clips from major motion picture studios in at conferences and events. Which clips to use and what to say about them? Brian has us covered. He recommends three books that deliver both the medium and the message:

101_Clips101 Movie Clips that Teach and Train, by Becky Pike Pluth

Let this book jumpstart your creativity for lesson planning or training design by providing you with the perfect movie clip for over 100 topics, including discrimination, leadership, team building, and sales. Each clip comes with cueing times, plot summary and scene context and cogent discussion questions.

Reel_LessonsReel Lessons in Leadership, by Ralph R. DiSibio

A unique study of leadership qualities using memorable films and their characters. The author takes a unique approach to studying the overwritten topic of leadership by using scenes and characters from popular movies. For each of the dozen movies, the author identifies leadership traits that the main character symbolizes.

Big_PictureThe Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, by Kevin Coupe & Michael Sansolo

Shows you how the stories in movies can inspire solutions in your business life. From brand marketing to ethics, leadership to customer focus, planning to rule breaking, everything you need to know about business is found in your favorite movies

As-Is Plus Video

Simple edits can be made to stock video that will enhance the message for the audience. These include subtitles, comment boxes, counters and more.

For-You Video

These are typically testimonial videos about you or your organization made by others. You bask in the reflected glory of their words. Be sure they mention your name up front.

By-You Video

If featuring you, these are the classic speaker videos. They need to be short, since people did not attend the meeting just to watch you on camera.

If they feature others, they really ‘bring the real world’ into your meeting. Examples featured employees saying what makes them feel appreciated, shown to HR managers. These can be ‘scrappy’ videos filmed on your phone, embedded in a suitable background.

Animated Video

Here Brian showed the great GoAnimate tool, which I used back in the day during my time in executive communications at Cisco. Really easy to make and effective at getting issues across in a powerful way. This explains how it works:

One tip from Brian: Don’t fade up from black. Simply add a still cover image with a half-second delay in PowerPoint before it plays.

Star-You Video

This was the highest level of video Brian discussed, explaining this puts you in the role of producer who hires scriptwriters, sound & camera people, editors and more. Coincidentally, there was just such a resource in the audience that day — Joanne Tan from 10+ Visual Branding.

My fav example from Joanne’s portfolio has to be the ad for this local Brazilian waxing salon, located right next door to the restaurant where the past-presidents met for a late lunch. How convenient!

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A blast from the past: The influence of the wealthy in politics

Trump_FamilyDipping into past blog posts I came across my 2006 comments on the cultural differences between Japan, Australia and the US around attitudes toward the wealthy.

While the Japanese hammer down the nails that stick up, to enforce conformity, and the Australians whack their tall poppies, Americans are famous for their adulation of the wealthy.

In the comments to that original post I added a 2008 article by FT columnist (now Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs) Chrystia Freeland, who detected changing attitudes to the super-rich wishing to enter politics as revealed by then-attitudes to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg “flirting with an independent bid for the White House for months. By and large, New Yorkers have been indulgent, but this week brought a chorus of scoldings, some of them directly aimed at his extraordinary fortune.”

She concluded by speculating that the mood in the US was moving toward condemnation of the wealthy, and asks us to:

Consider Donald Trump, who has built new a career as a media celebrity by assuming the persona of an obnoxious yet somehow admirable billionaire. Now, though, the mood is changing.

That was then.

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The Year of the Sahasrara

An wonderfully acerbic column by Jo Ellison in the Weekend FT alerted me to the fact that the good folks at Pantone have announced that the ‘Color of the Year’ for 2018 is Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet, which is subtly different from the Blue Iris (18-3943) that was color of the year 10 years earlier. It replaces the shade of green that was the color of 2017.

Pantones’ executive director waxes eloquent about the relevance of this for 2018:

Pantone Quote

Ellison is having none of this. To her

It makes me think of wizards and wacky shed-dwelling craftspeople and the type of people with gnarly toenails who congregate at sunrise to take part in ancient ceremonies involving runic stones. It’s the colour adored by “open-minded” people who move out of London to give their children better educational opportunities, and end up whittling nose whistles in Brighton.

The Queen in PurpleThere is, however, a long association of purple/violet with higher purpose, being both the color of Royalty (not known for nose whistle whittling) as well as the sahasrara or crown chakra. As I wrote back in 2006, the crown chakra sits on or above the physical top of the head. It relates to consciousness as pure awareness. It is our connection to the greater world beyond, to a timeless, spaceless place of all-knowing. When developed, this chakra brings us knowledge, wisdom, understanding, spiritual connection, and bliss.

SahasraraBack then, I asked speechwriters to consider to what extent does anything in your speech really mean a damn in the big scheme of things? It’s refreshing to see that Pantone is asking the same questions today.

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Let’s welcome more refugees to America!

Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
— Bob Dylan, The Chimes of Freedom

Upwardly Global ReportAs I’ve previously posted immigration, legal or otherwise, is the lifeblood of the United States. Refugees form an important source of immigrants who are often among the least understood, most victimized and yet most valuable additions to a society. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than three million refugees. Consider the role of some these refugees and the way they helped make America great:

  • Andy Grove, Hungarian refugee, founder of Intel currently valued at $203 billion.
  • Jan Koum, Ukrainian refugee, founder of WhatsApp which in 2014 was purchased by Facebook for $22 billion.
  • Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian refugee, co-founder of Apple, currently valued at $900 billion.

This information is from an important new report from Upwardly Global that highlights the role of refugees in America and reviews both their successes, as well as barriers to integration they face.

The foremost barrier, not surprisingly, sits in the White House. The report notes:

The U.S. refugee policy overhaul in 2017 marks a fundamental shift in how the U.S. allows people to enter the country at a time when 65.6 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced, including 22.5 million refugees. In September, the White House announced plans to cap the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in 2018 at 45,000, the lowest number since the current U.S. refugee admissions system was established in 1980.

This policy ignores the fact that accepting refugees is not only a humanitarian and legal obligation, but an investment that leads to long-term socioeconomic benefits. Investing in skilled refugee workforce integration yields tremendous benefits for our economy and communities. In 2016, Upwadly Global helped 247 refugees secure full-time professional jobs with an average income of $47,000 – resulting in these individuals lifting themselves out of poverty and become economic contributors.

Let’s not turn our back on the global need to resettle refugees. Let’s do something that will really make America great again and welcome more refugees to America!

To find out more, read the full report.

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Comfort Zone

Tommy John ModelThe good folks at men’s outfitters Tommy John (“A man’s under layers shouldn’t be stuck in the past. Or anywhere else.”) have, rather surprisingly, produced a great infographic on how to remain calm under pressure — such as might afflict any chap called on to speak in public. Since they claim that their underwear “won’t crumble his cookies” and the models who wear Tommy John’s look extremely relaxed you can be sure the techniques suggested in the infographic work wonderfully. Moreover, any company named after a man’s John Thomas deserves the respect of wordsmiths everywhere!

Click on the image below to see the full-sized infographic.


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Speaker Magazine

Speaker_MagazineAn excellent resource for anyone curious to learn more about the business of professional speaking (and presentation tips in general) is the archive of SPEAKER magazine, published each month by the National Speakers Association.

You can scroll through back issues back to 2007 (including my own Relevant Resources columns from 2012).


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