My eulogy for Granny

St Peters Tandridge, 29 March 2021.

I’d like to start by thanking you all for coming today, on behalf of our family.

March 2021 was always going to be a difficult time to arrange a funeral. Many of you have come a long way or are making a special effort in uncomfortable circumstances; sat apart from each other and wearing masks.

However, I think what’s important is that we have almost all of the most important parts of Granny’s life represented here, today.

It’s wonderful to have several of Granny’s lifelong family friendships represented here today, as well as to remember her friends and companions who can’t be here, including Jill Antrobus and John Wyatt.

Today we are celebrating Granny, Great Granny, Jill’s life. This is also a fitting opportunity to remember Grandpa Fred and Grandpa Brian.

And also Jill’s father, my Great Grandfather, Robert, or Bob as some of you will have known him. He and Granny had a very close relationship and I’ve come to realise that he had such an important influence on her life and even our lives, right up until this month.

Granny didn’t mind me teasing her now and again so: as you might well imagine she left us with a fairly specific set of instructions for today.

These instructions included a list of all the things she was involved with over the years and I’ll come back to those shortly.

But, with Dad’s help in preparing this, I think there’s something more that we should all take from today.

More than simply Granny’s outstanding sense of community and being a wonderful friend, daughter, mother, auntie, cousin, grandmother and great grandmother.

My generation tend to measure accomplishment in terms of academic or sporting success, accumulated wealth or whether or not you’ve overcome some terrible adversity.

But Jill’s story is different.

There are many points in her life that were terribly sad. However, none of these define her.

In fact, it’s what she achieved in spite of these things, and the strength of character that she developed, which is what I believe we should be celebrating today.

As a 6 year old girl, long before the NHS, Jill was very poorly. Her parents could only visit her in hospital a few times a week. The children all sat together for meals and she used to tell me about a boy who would kick the legs of the other children under the table. After a few meal times Granny decided to kick back and of course she was never bothered by him again, or so the story goes.

Perhaps this is the first time we see her strength of character developing. More importantly, I am sure that this early experience of hospital fed into her life long respect for the NHS – especially prescient after the past 12 months when we’ve all found new levels of respect for Doctors and Nurses. And of course this respect for the NHS and her strength of character ultimately manifested itself in tireless campaigning on behalf of Oxted Hospital.

So, Jill is defined in part by what she did as a result of an early life experience, rather than what happened to her.

In 1940, in order to escape the Blitz, Granny and her family were forced to swap the comfort of street lamps, parks and pavements in suburban Enfield, for the dark, narrow lanes of East Surrey.

But, as we’ve come to expect, Granny quickly made new friends and, rather than live in fear of the war, she and her friends turned to putting on little plays and musicals. They used a cluster of trees on Broadham Green as a natural theatre, just a couple of miles across the fields from where we are sat now. They would take donations for the Red Cross from passers by and neighbours.

Leaving London must have have been incredibly daunting for a 10 year old, but, as ever, she didn’t just muddle through, she made the very best of it.

Jill’s mother, Ellaline, was a wonderful singer so maybe this, coupled with those first theatrical experiences in the trees, were a small stepping stone to what became a lifetime’s commitment and love for the Barn Theatre.

I’m too young to even begin to fathom her lifetime’s worth of plays, musicals and opera. But thanks to Pippa and others, I and my brothers have been able to enjoy seeing Granny involved in the theatre – including on stage – in various ways right up until just a few years ago.

Selfishly though, I’m very grateful she found the Barn Theatre because without it, she wouldn’t have met Grandpa Brian and therefore I don’t think I’d be here now!

Jill’s mother died when Jill was just a young woman. Granny and Grandpa Brian take Great Grandpa under their wing and he lived with them for the rest of his life. And rather than this arrangement being framed in tragedy, we’ve only ever grown up enjoying it as a sense of closeness in our family and benefiting from Robert’s positive influence, that I mentioned earlier.

Granny didn’t enjoy the best of health, throughout her life. But again, we won’t remember her for that. She didn’t let health define her, or stop her.

This is Jill who, as a widow, found sport in her 50s, in playing bowls. And not just the occasional friendly match. She wouldn’t mind me describing her as ferociously competitive. Granny won national bowls championships and even, in her 70s, became a Director of the bowls club in order that she could help ensure its survival.

Perhaps most importantly, it was through bowls that Granny met Grandpa Fred. And this afforded them the opportunity to extend their retirement years together. Just as wonderful, was that fact we grew from being a fairly small family, to suddenly having brothers and sisters-in-laws, Uncles and Aunties and lots of wonderful cousins for Gareth and I in particular to look up to and hang around with at Christmases and birthdays.

Whether it was through bowls, theatre, fighting for Oxted Hospital or working for the Citizens Advice Bureau, Jill never, ever, became the stereotypical little old lady.

Oxted is littered with numerous property speculators and estate agents who misjudged this and whose offers received very short shrift over the years.

And when Granny could no longer bowl, or be as active in the theatre or WI, she was still the centre of our family. She was modern and forward thinking, glued to her tablet for email, Facebook and news.

Granny loved all our respective partners and was a proud Great Grandmother.

We’ll all remember Jill / Granny / Great Granny in our own special ways.

But I really wanted to find a common message about her life, that we can all take from today, share with others and draw strength from in the future.

A Revd Robinson once stood in this spot and delivered a sermon about ‘stickability’, which left quite an impression with me. I forget the biblical connection – sorry – but it was about having resolve, perseverance and energy to make the very best of life.

And it’s Jill’s ‘stickability’ – her resolve and energy for life – that I think we should all remember her for.

I’d ask you to remember her for this, in addition to your own special memories, and hopefully draw some comfort from her when life deals you a bad hand.

I’ll finish with a quote from Nicholas Nickelby. I had thought this was one of Granny’s books, but it turns out it might have been one of Grandpa Brian’s. Perhaps that makes this quote all the more appropriate today given their tremendous faith.

In Nicholas Nickelby, Charles Dickens writes:

The pain of parting is nothing, compared to the joy of meeting again.

The first 4 months of 2019

January

February

March

Hypnobirthing for Dads

Prior to my daughter being born in February 2017, we signed up for a hypnobirthing course, as a couple, to prepare us for pregnancy, birth and the first few months.

Actually we signed up to quite a few things. As Dad, I was interested to read a few books and thought NCT was probably something to tolerate rather than look forward to. I’d had a chat with a few mates who are long-standing Dads and picked up some tips. I’m afraid to say hypnobirthing was definitely something I was tolerating for my partner’s sake.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong: it was the single best piece of preparation we took on. In fact, it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had for a long time.

I’m not sure where the ‘hypno’ bit comes from. Don’t let that put you off. There are no swinging pocket watches.

Hypnobirthing is about understanding all the choices available to you, as a couple, during pregnancy and birth. It isn’t about forcing anyone to have waterbirths at home, or calling the child Sky or Spirit.

Winnie Westoby-Lloyd
Mouth-open air guitar pose

Hypnobirthing carves out quality time to prepare for birth, free of distractions and focussed on good practice and sensible, evidence-based advice.

I found NCT and NHS session a little chaotic as facilitators tried to keep up with ever-changing guidelines. Hypnobirthing simplified all that.

Most importantly:

  • it gave me a role as the partner, to provide really practical support. Things like massage for Mum, making sure the birth environment was quiet and calm.
  • some useful meditative practice, like better breathing (yes, for Dads too).
  • gave me an understanding of the NHS’s needs and how to meet these without compromising our plans
  • gave us options to consider. You can practice hypnobirthing, even with a C-section in hospital. Hypnobirthing is an approach, not a fixed process
  • this was a much more structured experience, than picking through a barrage of book and YouTube recommendations

If you’re a Dad-to-be, hypnobirthing is one of the single best investments of time and money you can both make during pregnancy. Take my word, as a cynic-turned-advocate.

Our hypnobirthing instructor was Bev Samways at Small Acorn. She was brilliant for us. I understand from other Dads that different instructors have different styles, so be sure to pick someone who’s right for you.

Let’s challenge things, not validate them

The team I work with spend a lot of time training people.

For much of this we get encouraging feedback, sometimes constructive, sometimes negative too.

I’m pretty open minded about the feedback we receive. As a team we’ve put a lot of effort in to constructive communication and better listening.

But the feedback I really struggled with recently said this:

‘The training validated my knowledge.’

No-one can know it all. Even if the people we’re talking to are experts, I’d like our work to feel a bit challenging.

Feedback like this makes me think that person is holding out on us, or they weren’t really prepared to learn anything new in the first place.

I’m not in the business of validating people’s understanding. We charge a bit too much for that. There’s no value in that. The client doesn’t learn anything. Nor do we.

My aim is to help people with our work. Or at least trigger some constructive disagreement.

It’s a wake up call for me to be a bit less forgiving of vague responses to questions in workshops, or in training submissions.

Be honest – when do you work best?

Not everyone can be productive in the conventional sense. We all need to get stuff done, but not everyone’s work fits in to neat lists.

Lists are all very well, but next to useless without some variety, ordering and flexibility.

You can add something like ‘write a blog post’ to your list, block out some time to do it, but if the inspiration isn’t there, or, frankly, you can’t be bothered at that time, so what?

This is what frustrates me with productivity tools.

I have two lists: one with big tasks and hard deadlines, that need hitting. These are client projects, new business proposals and the work we do on developing products and services.

I also have a list of equally important, but much smaller items like billing, data entry and making travel arrangements. These things need to be done, but because they’re bite sized I can fit them in at a time when I feel I can’t clear my head for the big stuff.

Being honest

This is important, because I’ve started being more honest with myself about productive times of the day. And there’s not many of them, which is slightly embarrassing.

8-10.30am is good. 3-5pm is OK. Sunday mornings too.

This means that writing presentations and proposals has to happen first thing or late afternoon, or not at all. The in between bits can be usefully filled with admin. Or late morning I go for a short walk to pick up some lunch

Most importantly, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the relatively small windows of productive time that I enjoy. I’m less worried about the fact I can’t be the hours-straight productivity machine that I used to aspire to (and still admire from afar). I don’t know how people work like this, I envy them, but my work and my concentration just don’t fit this.

There are some exceptions: clients call meetings when they need them and I work around those. I also hate being on a train or driving during a productive part of the day, but that can’t be helped.

If you’re wondering about effective working, productivity and getting more done, take a really honest look at when you’re at your best, and work to that schedule.

Image licensed under Creative Commons. Attributed to Chris Lott

Bereavement in the workplace

This is a bit of a sad topic for this blog, but something I’ve been thinking about on and off for years.

When a colleague dies, or a colleague suffers a bereavement, it’s really hard to know what to do. There’s the formal, pastoral, possibly policy-led response:

  • take some time off*
  • click here for counselling etc.

*(varies depending on who it was who died)

Then there’s the more personal response, that’s driven by your own sense of loss, bewilderment and shock. You can’t believe you won’t see them in the office again, or if it’s a colleague that’s suffered a bereavement, that this has happened to them.

We’re used to seeing our colleagues through a fairly professional lens, in a work context. You know they have lives at home, and maybe you’ve had glimpses into that life. But basically we think of each other in terms of roles, responsibilities and projects.

So when they’re upset in the office, or snatched away, or sick, it can be even more of a shock. The dawning realisation that Joe Bloggs had kids, or his wife has died. Wasn’t she the one who sent that cake in last month?

I heard of one team member who drove his colleague straight home – 120 miles down the M4 – after he received some bad news. That’s a brilliant thing to do. Get your colleague home to his family as quick as possible, and in a private space.

It goes without saying that giving people space is the most important thing you can do, but I also think its important to keep in touch and let them know you’re thinking of them. Hopefully it makes the return to work a little less awkward for everyone.

The return to work. Could be awkward all round. Don’t mention this, focus on that. Sweep the office for any inappropriate correspondence. One of my mentors, who wasn’t renowned for his day-to-day sensitivity, actually had a gift for welcoming recently bereaved staff back to the office. He’d suddenly launch a new magazine, website or other initiative for them to lead, creating a busy (but caring) atmosphere. ‘Work should be somewhere you can come to forget your troubles at home’ he said. I’m not sure councillors would agree with that, but I think there’s something in it.

 

Learning

The second time that I turned back to face inland, the cliffs suddenly seemed a lot larger than before, yet the tide was sucking me back out to sea. Hangover instantly dissipated, I realised that although I liked to go for a swim in the sea now and again, I didn’t actually know what I was doing.

And I’d recently signed up to a triathlon.

Since that over-confident dip off the Dorset coast, I’ve started swimming regularly. Only after five weeks have I realised that my breathing is holding me back. And my breathing is bad because, essentially, I’m nervous.

I’m nervous because I’m rushing home to get to the pool before it closes. I’m nervous because there are some very slick swimmers alongside me. I’m nervous because I thought I was supposed to hold my breath under water, and I don’t like doing that.

Turns out my confidence is low, and my technique totally and utterly wrong.

But with a bit of support, swimming each week, watching other people’s technique (discreetly, for fear of looking wierd), practising things I’ve picked up online, and most important of all, setting some simple goals, I’m beginning to feel more confident and my technique is improving.

I’m making a few mistakes as I go along, like the occasional mouth full of water, but help is never far away.

It feels good to build confidence in something that I’ve been avoiding for a long time. As a result I hope I can bring a bit more empathy to the people we train as part of our business.

My own experience with swimming, and conversations with the people on our Digital Action Plans, make me think there are a basic set of ingredients to building skills and confidence:

1. Making a weekly habit (of whatever you are trying to improve)
2. Setting short-term, achievable goals
3. Having a long-term need, or target
4. Practising technique, with some knowledgable support

Right now I’m still splashing about; out of breath, but in a fairly safe environment, and swimming a little further each week.

Dealing with real people, not logos

I’m seven months in to an experiment with how I spend my money online.

  • if I can’t buy something online because a website doesn’t work, or keeps trying to force me to a call centre…
  • …I look for staff on social media, and contact them to try and complete a purchase, or get an answer
  • if this doesn’t work, I buy somewhere else

Why? Because I don’t like organisations advertising at me, when they can’t get the basics of customer service right, online.

There was a difficult decision to be made in January. I had a friend visiting and I wanted to take him to my favourite local pub/restaurant. Their online booking form doesn’t work, and they don’t respond on Twitter. We went somewhere else, and I felt bad for the pub, but still determined.

Runners Need benefited from my spending when I needed new trainers and one of their staffers came to my aid on Twitter, in February.

I’ve also made some fairly sizeable decisions around hotel and venue bookings, based on how usable the online service is, or if it isn’t (frequently the case), then the speed and personality with which staff come to my assistance on social media.

I was spurred on by Nottinghamshire Foundation Trust, who read my original post:

I also saw this, which made me laugh, and persuaded me to get more ambitious in terms of retailer and money spent:

Things were going OK for a while: I booked an entire weekend’s worth of logistics in Norway, online. Partly thanks to an OK airline booking experience (Norwegian Air), but also having had to resort to Facebook for accommodation, because the Norwegian tourism website is a bit of a mess.

I elicited some real-staff reaction from a very big brand, after blogging about some thoughtless advertising.

However, things have started to go wrong when it comes to moving house.

Solicitors and estate agents are tricky to procure online. I accept there needs to be some real-world interaction (not meeting people was never part of my plan), but websites lacking in information, and rambling email correspondence is totally at odds with my world of work.

Cancelling my TV licence was a nightmare thanks to a poor online transaction. I basically gave up, and didn’t bother pursuing any staff online, which was a mistake. The transaction that I abandoned somehow landed in someone’s in tray, and now I’m £65 better off. Bonus.

Car insurance is the one transaction where I have completely buckled. Again, I understand that they need certain types of information, but the basics such as quotes and changes of address should be serviced online. Rather than find a company who supports this, I broke my commitment from December and went with the cheapest option, which involved three painful phone calls. And stamps.

So how am I doing? A mixed bag at best, but I’m going to stick with my resolution and see how far I can take it.

Good morning Clerkenwell

I’ve always been a morning person. Coffee, breakfast, jump on the bike or on the train, and get going for the day ahead. Partly this is due to the way I was brought up, and partly reflecting the energy of some of the inspiring people I have worked with in the past 15 years.

Since joining Helpful I’m even more of a morning person. I am generally pretty excited about getting on with a to-do list that never seems to get any shorter, but is packed full of interesting and varied work. Mixing the challenges of growing a small business, winning new work and delivering projects (training, web builds and strategic support) seems a pretty perfect mix of activities to me.

It isn’t without challenges though. I’m on a steep learning curve when it comes to project management, having spent five years dealing with work that has either felt very reactive, or extremely drawn out. None of our projects come with the luxury of protracted timescales, or rarely with the immediacy of ‘just get it done’ – clients want to be involved, and make decisions. Honestly: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In fact, the pipeline of new work has been so full at times that we’ve made some tough choices about only working with clients who want to be involved and learn. Providing endless routine support or maintenance to organisations that don’t really care about their own capability isn’t a business I or any of my colleagues want to be in.

A new job is also a great time to make some tweaks to working habits too. I’m working even less in email than ever before, which is brilliant for me and probably frustrating for everyone else. The Business is GREAT itch finally won and I bought a Brompton. London has opened up for me in a way I never thought possible. I’m a little more fit and much of the aggravation of public transport has gone. And with such a mix of sectors and types of project each day, my reading has changed for the better. I can dip in and out of the echo chambers of old, while freeing up time to find out how digital works in all sorts of other organisations and territories.Scotrail sleeper from a moving window

Crucially, as well as learning a lot, I also feel able to apply lots of experience and put a few old ghosts to rest too. In particular, digital in press office. More on that another time.

Finally, I couldn’t write about my first six months at Helpful without mentioning the sleeper train. We’ve been working in Scotland at various times and used the sleeper to make the most of busy schedules. I am a total convert to the faded glamour and practicality. Rubbery egg and Euston station never seemed so appealing as they do now.

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/simonvarwell/

Non violent digital

I’ve been reading about non violent communication.

Non violent communication (NVC) is about empathising, removing your own judgements and pre-conceived ideas, listening to what is actually being said and trying to understand the needs behind it.

I am not your typical NVC customer. None of these guys would have endorsed it. Ten years ago I would not have given this the time of day. Even six months ago I would have been cynical.

Then I got to thinking about the sheer amount of energy that’s required for working in a disruptive field like digital. It can be really hard, month in, month out, to help colleagues and clients build confidence, skills and an understanding of how users consume information online.

On any typical day, I will receive at least one email like this example:

I need to establish a presence on [channel] for the [content] that I am writing.

Because of the importance and impact of this work, affecting as it will all our work internally and across [audience], I think we should have a link on the homepage.

I will also need you to set up publisher rights for myself and X and possibly Y [Z – do you have an opinion on this?].

Can you let me know your thoughts soonest?

Read this in the wrong frame of mind, and you’d be forgiven for assuming the sender is self-important, demanding and has little knowledge about how interested or otherwise their audience is in this content. Who are they to tell me they will have publishing rights, and that their work is the most important thing on my to do list? The urgent final line only grates further.

Apply a bit of NVC, and it’s possible to demonstrate to this person that you are listening and trying to identify the real needs that are driving this request.

For example, ‘I need to establish a presence on this channel…’ is not a need. Nor would it be a need if, when asked, this person said ‘my boss has asked for…’. However, gently reflecting this request back to the originator, and asking questions about their work, should reveal who the intended audience is, and what it is that we are trying to say. Crucially, in terms of productivity, we can also learn when this piece of communication will deliver most impact, and prioritise accordingly.

This example is fairly specific, but I think NVC works really well across all types of channels and audience needs.

Marshall Rosenburg has written a really easy to read book about NVC – I recommend it, if you’re needing some clarity about dealing with competing demands and opinion.