A Seed is Dropped…

Charity…? Volunteering – ?

“I can’t afford to do something for nothing!”

How often have you been faced with those words? I’ve even used them myself, privately, in my own thoughts. Especially when desperately looking for a way to earn an income when we arrived in the UK from Africa at the turn of the century.

Roy (my husband) and I came because he needed better health care in the aftermath of his cancer. And although our NHS has its problems, there is still nothing to compare with its services.

We spent our savings on buying a flat at the foot of the beautiful South Downs. And I needed to find a job. But I was too old. “You wouldn’t fit it,” were the euphemistic words they used. I eventually found a part-time admin job, but the pace nearly killed me. “They” were right; I was too old.

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The one thing I could still do – after two attempts at qualifying to British standards – was judge dressage. I’ve been horse-mad all my life, and involved the family in every conceivable branch of equestrian activities in Kenya. Judging dressage was a way to keep in with the horsey world, and it was no problem to volunteer my services as a means of giving something back. I have discovered that the standard mileage expenses I earn cover the annual cost of running my car. How cool is that!

One day, I read an advertisement in the local paper. Age Concern was looking for volunteer Advocates, and they were offering a six-week training course to successful candidates. My mind went into overdrive. It would be a way of learning how the system works in this country. And there was another factor: Roy’s numerous medical conditions were not going to go away; he had already aged fifteen years over the course of twenty-four hours after his first operation. Being an Advocate for Age Concern might teach me how to cope with him in old age.

The work was interesting and rewarding. It is amazing how the smallest of interventions can bring blessed relief. Like the couple who were being hounded by the Gas company for a colossal bill. It was obviously an error in the computing system. But the company wouldn’t take their word for it. I only had to call the Gas company from the clients’ home, introduce myself as their Advocate for Age Concern, then go to the meter and confirm the reading. And the matter was settled.

Another couple, new to the area, were deadlocked against their former County Council over the relocation of their severely disabled daughter. I waded through the extensive correspondence, and could feel the intense frustration from both sides, coming at the problem from different perspectives. I shrugged my shoulders.

“You’re digging yourselves into an impossible mire,” I said. “You are fed up with the County Council, and no doubt they are fed up with you.” They nodded. “You want to have your daughter nearby, and you’ve found a place for her. Why don’t you just do it? Stop arguing, and bring her down?”

The enlightenment and relief on their faces as the possibility dawned was a wonder to behold.

Of course, some things don’t work.

·         Like becoming involved with a desperate widow who had a black cat and indulged in the occult. She wanted to go into sheltered housing, and needed to sell her home. But she had a jealous, adopted son, who wanted to inherit the cottage. She secretly cut him out of her will; but could not bring herself to break free from his clutches.

·         Or trying to help an elderly lady escape from her bullying husband. She had found herself another place to live, yet had told her husband where she was. I was there when she let him in, and he wouldn’t let me go… There was nothing for it, but to sit patiently and empathise, while he went into a tirade. Finally, I asked the lady, “Can I go now?” My supervisor closed the case.

Charity has the amazing capacity to turn everything on its head and reward the giver in the most unexpected ways. We all know the pleasant warm feeling when someone thanks us from the bottom of their heart. But there are so many other ways. A seed is dropped, takes root, and grows into something out of all proportion.

It was through Age Concern that we discovered the means to make ends meet. I learned about Attendance Allowance, and helped clients complete the complicated forms. Then my supervisor suggested that Roy might qualify for the benefit, and why didn’t we try? He did! And I became his carer.

My caring activities have expanded, now that Roy is becoming increasingly frail. And our NHS keeps a professional eye and gives regular support as needed.

Never again will I undervalue the concept of giving something for nothing. You just never know what might happen.

I found another volunteering opportunity, more in keeping with my expertise in business mentoring, which I talked about in another blog: https://jbwye.com/2016/01/22/do-people-matter/

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No Clapping

There was no clapping at the end of my “Afternoon with Jane” talk on Monday at St. Wilfrid’s Church, Broad Road. Was that a bad thing – or a good thing? I noticed – but didn’t mind, really.

I talked about how my life experiences were revealed in my three novels, and I interspersed the story with readings.

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My Amazon Author Link

While I answered questions afterwards, the tea ladies got up to put the kettle on, and the room hummed with warm conversation. People drifted towards the table bearing my books, and friends came up to enthuse, saying it was good to learn new things about me.

“I could have listened to you all day!” said one.

“You should do an audio of your books,” said another.

“I agree with what you said about the dangers of Government-to-Government Aid in Africa,” said yet another.

She was one of three or four people in the room who had been to Africa. I had done a quick poll during my talk. Her comment was a relief. I’d somewhat put my foot in it during a previous talk to Rotary. I was too emphatic and generalistic. Of course, there is much to be said in favour of that sort of aid, and when I talked afterwards with the ex-Colonial Project Officer whose toes I was purported to have stepped on, I affirmed I had great respect for the people in the field. It was the politics and the corruption at the other end of the spectrum I was thinking of. One lives and learns…

I wrote Grass Shoots in an attempt to discover for myself a more modest, but perhaps better way to help the developing world, and have found a few examples. Apart from those acknowledged in the book, an Australian project was brought to my notice only this week. You might like to check it out: Nakuru Hope. Nakuru is my home town.

But, to get back to Monday – my books were a sell-out, and I left with several orders to fulfil.

Why was there no clapping? Perhaps it was something to do with my final reading, from Grass Shoots:

“Emily went out by herself to savour the magic of their special place. She’d followed (her new husband) often enough along the game path from the dry river bed bordering their plot. Reaching a bend, she looked to her left.

There was a loud snort of concern. A wildebeest stood poised for flight. They eyed each other, frozen with tension. He was big; he tossed his horns and stamped a foot, then snorted again. Emily stood her ground and so did he. Only a few yards separated them, and a feeling of unease spread through her. (Help) was out of reach in the house on the other side of the dam. If she retreated, the animal would chase her down. She held her breath, and eyed the surrounding long grass, looking for an escape route – and the wildebeest lowered its head. To her great relief, it continued sedately on its way across her path. She had broken the confrontation, and it no longer saw her as a threat.

For one long moment she had been a mere creature out there facing danger, tasting the fear experienced by wild animals every moment of their vulnerable lives. It was a humbling experience.”

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Sitting Pretty

It may seem so to some people.

Here I am on my swivel computer chair in my bedroom/office, (I use a cushion, which saves my ailing back a little) while hubby reclines on his NHS riser/recliner chair in the sitting room. This morning he’s reading a book. Most times he’s having a snooze, or watching cricket or snooker on the telly. When I come in for a break, he knows it’s time to switch to the tennis.

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It’s cloudy outside, and some days I never even go out the front door, it’s not very inviting. But if I crick my neck out the window, and it isn’t misty, I can see the downs. I remember the walks I used to take, suddenly deciding to up and go. I could climb to the top of Butt’s Brow in ten minutes. Great exercise! Then I would wander along the grassy pathways and forest glades communing with nature. Even singing out loud – after making sure nobody was within hearing distance. I stopped taking my binoculars with me years ago. The birds in this country conceal themselves cunningly behind a leaf or a branch the instant you raise your binos.

I learned where the stiles and benches were, and paced myself between them, stopping to sit and admire the view, and get my breath back. Sometimes I even took a notebook with me to continue a work in progress. I never got very far, as there were always passers-by to acknowledge, and dogs to greet. Dogs would come running to say hello, and stay for a brief pat and a tickle round the ears, or on the belly. We were kindred spirits, even though we were complete strangers. I do miss having animals at home. It’s not practical in a tiny flat.

Now, however, I have achieved greatly if I manage to complete the five-minute walk down the road to the Triangle – our local shops – and back. I make myself do it because the exercise is good for me, but it’s a relief when I return home to collapse into my armchair.

 

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Chilham Castle

 

One thing I can still do, sitting comfortably in my car – and sometimes perching not so comfortably on a stool in a cold and dusty judges’ box – is judge dressage. I don’t need to tell you I love horses, and this is a way of keeping in touch with these wonderful animals. I go to some exotic places, and once or twice even Olympians have come before me on beautiful young horses.

Sitting is not always comfortable. The chairs at my bridge club play havoc with my back, and I now have to use a cushion. The older you get, the more sedentary you become, and the more important is the seat in your scheme of things. Along with most of our congregation, I am looking forward to delivery of new chairs in our church.

And now it’s time to get up again and prepare for lunch. While slicing onions last night, the ceramic knife slipped, and chomped off a piece of nail from my finger. I was sitting at the time on a hydraulic, padded bar stool with 360 degree swivel, which I found on the internet. One of my better buys.

My finger is getting better already, so perhaps I won’t lose the whole nail; but that’s another story in the making…

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Tea and Cakes

And a Book-signing to be fondly remembered.

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It’s almost like deja vu. Only this time I was a little bit wiser, and laid on home made cup cakes, duly decorated with African animals, made by my daughter. The chocolates, too, (a birthday gift from the day before) were useful. And the girls in the Christian Resource Centre, Eastbourne, kept us well lubricated with countless cups of tea.

My guests were almost the same as four years ago when my first novel, Breath of Africa, was launched. A dear couple whom I’d not known in Kenya, and who didn’t look a day older, David Lockwood, ex-white hunter / conservationist, and Reinhild Maxtone-Mailer, author. We sat and chatted comfortably, before Stephen Lloyd walked in. Given that a general election has only just been called, I would have forgiven him if he’d forgotten his promise to come and say “jambo”. (He was born in Kenya).

Stephen is launching into a full-blooded campaign to regain the seat he narrowly lost to the Conservatives two years ago. I wish him good fortune to go with his hard work. He devoured two cup cakes, before organising us for a photo, posing for a selfie with one of the girls, buying my book, then disappearing with a cheery wave. Were those two cakes his lunch, I wondered…

One or two others wandered in, and joined me for a cuppa and a chat, which resulted in more book sales than expected. Before I knew it, I had overstayed my two hour slot by almost 50%. A very pleasant and peaceful experience, befitting my advancing years.

Thankyou everyone… not least my long-term People Matter colleague and friend, Ray Dadswell, whose prayerful column, Pause for Thought, in the Eastbourne Herald’s Advertiser in days gone by, I remember well.  He arrived with a bunch of birthday flowers, seen in the picture below, bottom left. They are blossoming nicely now, in our sitting-room, turning their heads to the sun. On the right of the picture you can see the plate of cup cakes, and the chocolates.

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Grass Shoots is the sequel to Breath of Africa. As well as being a unique love story, it touches on the problem of charity, and how it works – or doesn’t – in Africa. It can be read as a stand alone, although you’d benefit from reading Breath of Africa first!

You can buy all my books at the Christian Resource Centre, Eastbourne.

Here are the amazon links:

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https://bookgoodies.com/a/B00BOAK0FA

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https://bookgoodies.com/a/B01MRAG2F3

And if you fancy a novella set in Sussex which will only take you a couple of hours to read:

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https://bookgoodies.com/a/B00O4FFU5C

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Time to Re-start

Today is my birthday, and tomorrow is the book-signing of my third novel. Fifteen years ago the thought of becoming a fully-fledged author was an impossible dream, which I was encouraged to commit to paper. I was over sixty, for heaven’s sake.

We had recently emigrated from Kenya, my husband and I, mainly due to his failing health. Although the doctors and nurses in Africa were first class, the infrastructure left lots to be desired. So – yes – we became medical immigrants, coming to cause more burden on the NHS. Australia, our first choice, because the bulk of our family had settled there, had refused us on the grounds of medical health.

But I digress…

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With barely the wherewithal to pay for a tiny flat at the foot of the South Downs, and a husband who was medically retired – how was I going to find a way of earning a living?

I tried several options. While training for one of them, the concept of dreaming and setting goals caught my fancy.

It was no problem thinking up ten impossible dreamlike objectives, writing them down, and putting the list at the bottom of my empty in-tray. Writing a book and having it published was about fourth on the list. But I hasten to add that, although I am immensely proud of myself, my books did not lift our financial burden.

These past months Roy’s health has dwindled rapidly, and our lives have entered new territory. My admiration for the NHS has increased manifold, but the burden is different.

I have neglected my writing.

Today seems an appropriate time to re-start my Friday blog. I feel rather rusty, so please forgive me.

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Today’s The Day!

Launch Day Is Here.

Click on cover below to Buy My Book – and if you’re on Facebook, why not pop in to my party any time in the next twelve hours to partake in the festivities?

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Bursting With an Idea

Part 4: Starting Your Own Business.

There are many types of businesses, some of them overlapping and interlinking, and as a generalist, I have met with an interesting variety of clients. My following list gives readers an idea of this diversity, and is by no means rigid or comprehensive.

  1. We have what I call the service industry, which covers a multitude of businesses, such as hairdressing, beauty, massage, mind body and spirit, catering, security, tailoring, property management, gardening, handyman.
  2. The creative industries include art, leather-work, fashion design, jewellery design, even computer games, music, film, entertainment, the media, writing/journalism, inventions / innovations (Dragon’s Den-type ideas)
  3. Often combined with the creative industries is manufacturing, which takes a multitude of forms.
  4. Retail – the selling of goods through, for example, shops, on-line, markets, auctions.
  5. Even not-for-profit or charitable organisations, and social enterprises.

Every business would benefit from prior thought, and although the details may differ, the basic groundwork of a plan can be applied to all.

Over the course of this series, to help readers better to identify with the concepts of the business plan, I will include stories from various types of businesses. I have changed the names and some facts, to protect my clients.

The leather worker

John arrives bursting with an idea, and he can’t wait to start. He has a feel for leather, and has learned the art from a late friend of his father, who passed on his tools to John. He has made a few trinkets and given his girlfriend a dangly love-heart. He has looked at some magazines, and surfed the internet. He’s even tried some leather upholstery work, and gained the interest of a vintage car enthusiast.

John wants to start a proper business. His family are encouraging him to sell his creations, but he’s not sure how to go about it.

No – he’s never heard of a business plan, and wonders if it is even necessary? All he wants to know is when he can start, and what are the legal requirements. Also, he might need some funding, because although he has about a dozen items, he will soon run out of materials, and he cannot rely on his parents forever. He and his partner want to move into a place of their own.

I settle into my introductory spiel.

  • A business plan is dynamic; it never ends; it should be revisited at least once a year, and can be tweaked and made to change direction at any time.
  • The bare template I have devised has a certain structure, and is, of necessity, laid out in a set of numbered points. But you can go about it in any order you please.

I hand John a double-sided sheet of paper.

This template is the bare bones of a business plan, I tell him. (I will include it at the end of the series).

I have found that the best way to start is by discussing the services offered, or – in John’s case – the goods he wants to sell. This is item number 4 on my business plan template.

***

PLAN SUMMARY

In about 5-6 sentences, provide an overview of the major points of your business, including the goods / services you intend to offer

***

Also at this stage, I touch upon a concept unfamiliar to John: who does he want to sell them to: who are his customers?

Marketing is item number 10 on my plan.

***

YOUR MARKETING PLAN

How do you intend to advertise/promote your products/services to your customers? What is your USP (Unique Selling Point)? Consider all the possible media. Consider how material will be distributed.

***

I ask John about his leather work:

Little trinkets, he says.

But exactly what are they?

  • Can he show me some; has he made a portfolio? John eagerly gives me the URL of his website. It is in its infancy, and only three items are displayed. Has he built it himself? Yes – but there’s a long way to go.
  • Has he looked at other websites? Not really. He knows what he wants. Perhaps it would be advisable to study the websites of other leather-workers, I suggest. He might get some ideas.
  • Who is going to buy his goods? The answer is a look of disbelief on his face that I should ask such a question – anybody and everybody, of course.

I need to focus him on the exact nature of each separate type of item, and identify the precise market.

  1. A love-heart – who would buy one? Easy: young lovers. So, it would be a waste of time trying to sell to middle-aged happily married couples. Except, of course, perhaps on Valentine’s Day.
  2. Key-rings – he could produce bespoke patterns for business promotions, if he found the right market: yes – corporations!

But he would hardly make a living by selling such inexpensive trinkets, unless he can manufacture them in bulk. And he is a craftsman, who likes to work on original, bespoke items.

  1. Another thing he’s done, he tells me proudly, is re-upholster an antique chair for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I am overcome with admiration: what a unique niche market! And I hope that it is not just a one-off, and that he’s charged them correctly. John pulls a face, and I understand that he was so bowled over by the opportunity that he accepted their first offer. Everybody does it; but the sooner John learns how to research and evaluate his worth, the better. However, he has a picture of the finished chair in pride of place on his website.
  2. He’s started repairing and renewing leatherwork on a vintage car collection, owned by a local enthusiast. Another excellent opening, I tell him. But the collector provides all the materials, and only pays John a minimal hourly fee for his services. By this time, John knows what I’m thinking. He’s not an apprentice anymore. He would be better off sourcing the leather himself, and factoring in his expertise for the final charge.

This will come – given time, knowledge of his own worth, and the self-confidence to be able to stand up for himself.

The most effective way to achieve this goal, is by thorough RESEARCH!

John does not want to reinvent the wheel, he needs to learn from other people’s mistakes.

Look out for the next instalment in two weeks’ time!

Meanwhile, exciting things are happening in my world. If you subscribe to my Newsletter, you won’t miss out.

 

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