Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Planning is Pointless

Summer 2006

“The group meets on Thursday lunchtimes at the Priory. They bring their lunch with them, have a cup of tea, and then we have a guest speaker.”

I nod in my “I am interested in what you are saying, please continue” way with one eye on the ebb and flow of visitors around us. My volunteer is encouraged by this positive response.

“So, would you be willing to come along and give a talk?’

“Me? Um….I suppose I could do….when?”

“February 2007.”

That’s a long, long way away, I think. “Yes, fine,” I say.

February 2007

I turn the page in the diary (yes, it finally found its way home to me) and see “Talk at Priory” written in big letters. And it had seemed so far away up until this point. Fortunately I had a week to spare so could knuckle down and prepare the talk of a lunchtime. I was determined to do it properly. They had specifically asked for images to accompany the talk, so I created a colourful and entertaining slideshow on my laptop. The talk was to be 30 minutes long, so I rehearsed repeatedly until my timing was spot on. I was unfamiliar with the venue so looked it up online and planned my route. I double checked that the venue would be able to provide a screen and projector. I then decided to take my own, after having qualms that they may have thought I meant a traditional slide projector. McColleague was coming with me for moral support and, admittedly, the free lunch, and was due to arrive on the morning in question with plenty of time to help me get ready. All was prepared, all was in order.

The Day of the Talk

“I’ve found a bat! Just outside the back door, on the wall. Come and look.”

I followed my husband outside. There was indeed a bat. A long eared brown, as it turned out, with a badly broken wing. I dashed back inside and rang our local bat expert at her environmental consultancy. Following her advice we managed to get some water into him, via a wet cotton bud, and then put him snug and safe in a ventilated shoebox. He was injured beyond our ability to help him, so we needed to get him to a proper bat carer. Many phone calls ensued. Time flowed swiftly. “I have to go out soon,” I said on my nth call to the bat experts. “I have to be in Town X by 12.”

“Town X? Which way are you going? Will you be going via Town Y? I could meet you halfway in Town Y and take the bat off you, you see.”

“Hang on, I’ll get my road atlas….”

Of course my original route didn’t take my anywhere near Town Y, but I calculated that if I left in the next 10 minutes I could get to Town Y and still make it to Town X on time for the talk. We agreed to meet in Town Y train station, a nicely central venue.

I hung up the phone and started to gather my laptop, projector and leaflets together. I picked up the directions I had neatly printed off the night before and chucked them in the bin. McColleague arrived. “Change of plan!” I yelled as I thrust the bags at her. “We have to go to Town Y now, first.” I filled her in on the bat mercy dash we were now undertaking as we loaded the car. “Now, I know you don’t like bats” I said, “but you have to hold the shoebox.”

McColleague sat beside me in the passenger seat, shoebox held gingerly on her lap, as we roared off. (I roar everywhere in my car at the moment, the exhaust has blown). I glanced sideways at her – she was carefully holding the shoebox off her lap as we went over the cattlegrids, to spare its tiny occupant as much of the bumpiness as she could, bless her. We made it to Town Y exactly half an hour later and as we drove into the station car park we spotted the battered land rover of the nice chap who would care for our bat. I pulled up alongside him and we both emerged into the cold sunshine. The shoebox was handed over and I returned to my car – I had to, we were blocking the road and I am sure the occupants of the vehicle waiting to get past had dark suspicions about what had just transpired here. I gave them a big “it-wasn’t-drugs” smile as I manoeuvred past.

“Ok, McColleague,” I said as she tried to find our current location on the road map, “I am fairly confident I know where to go. The only thing is, I’ll be entering Town X from completely the other direction to that I originally planned to, but it just means the Priory should be on the right, rather than the left.”

“Right,” she said, in that way of hers.

“Ok,” I said, some time later, “we are now in Town X. Keep looking for signs. The Priory is a tourist attraction, its got to have signs.”

It didn’t have signs.

The swearing began.

“Ok, it’s a big enough building, surely we should just be able to see it, somewhere.”

We couldn’t see it.

The swearing continued.

Through sheer luck and intuition combined with a few exciting bits of navigation involving dead ends, 3 point turns and inspired braking, we actually found the venue, on time, and a parking place bang outside.

“It says ‘Parking Reserved for Vicar at All Times’.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not here and we are. We’ll say we’re unloading and if they want us to move it later we will.”

We strode into the church, and spotted the organisers. “Hello,” I boomed, “I’ve parked just outside the door and –“


The nice lady pointed to the sign explaining that a service was in progress.

We continued in awkward whispers for a while until we were able to go and set up the laptop and projector.

They had supplied a projector and, hooray, it was the right kind with the right leads and everything. It refused to work. Or, rather, it failed to detect the presence of my laptop. We shut everything down and started again. Nope. “Helpful” men gathered around and made “helpful” suggestions and tried to press buttons.

I checked the time. Only 10 minutes until I was supposed to begin the talk. Never mind, I had, fortunately, brought my own projector.

We set it up, turned it on, same problem. Bollocks, it must be the laptop. Why doesn’t it work with the projectors, why, why?

The audience was filing in now, people taking their seats and looking at the “No Signal” being projected onto the screen with interest.

McColleague and I had a crisis meeting behind a leaflet.

“We’re agreed then. I shall start the talk regardless and you shall parade around the audience, laptop held aloft, so everyone can see the slideshow regardless.”

I began the talk, apologising to the audience for my lack of visuals and explaining our technical problems. I then remembered how I hadn’t made any notes, as I had based my talk on the accompanying images, which were like my visual bullet points. Oh pants. But then, a miracle! The volunteer who had originally persuaded me to come and give a talk in the first place had been quietly working away behind me and had managed to get my laptop to talk to the projector! There, in all its big glory, was my presentation, on the screen, glowing in wonderful technicolour.

“Wow,” I said to the audience, “it appears we have got it working after all! Roger must be some kind of technological god, and I will worship him!” My eyes met those of the vicar and I remembered where I was. I launched into my talk with gusto.

Amazingly enough the response at the end was overwhelmingly positive. Lots of people came up to talk to me, ask questions, take leaflets. I even managed to recruit a new volunteer and somebody else wanted to book me for a talk for the W.I.

McColleague and I finally extricated ourselves and made our way back to the car. “I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I really want a drink.”

The Day After

I have a bit of a headache.


mym said...

Your straplines lie! All that showed was Why Planning is Not Pointless!

Boz said...

Doris - if this post doens't land you some kind of publishing contract, I despair. You have cheered up my lunch break no end.

Not that it matters, but I think my favourite lines were "The swearing began" and "McColleague and I had a crisis meeting behind a leaflet."

Uttter brilliance!

Doris said...

Mym - how did that show that planning is not pointless? All my plans turned to poop, so I may as well have just saved the planning time and got drunk. A valuable lesson, I think.

Boz - thank you, darling, the cheque's in the post.