Information Overwhelm and the Death of… Silence

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, news, Tweets, blogs, emails and updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

I read somewhere that the amount of information a person living in the Middle Ages had to digest in their whole lifetime, was about the same as is contained in one average modern daily newspaper. How anyone can deduce this, I’m not at all sure, but even if it is wildly inaccurate (and when are statistics ever wholly dependable?) it makes an interesting point.

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. It comes at us from every facet of life; TV, radio and the Internet, through flat screens, desktops and mobile devices. There’s a 24-hour news cycle; there are newspapers, headlines, highlights and sound bites; there are websites, data streams and news feeds, blogs, podcasts and emails; there’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and dozens of other social media channels.

That’s just the news and views – the keepy-uppy of contemporary culture. Add into the mix the battle to win our loyalty and sell, sell, sell, through advertising hoardings, posters and pop-ups, the ever increasing flood of promotional messages, ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and location-based offers, the ‘if you liked that, you’ll love this’ links, streams, trends and updates; all the time, the implied obligation to stay abreast of technology, celebrity, fashion, lifestyle and more… much, much more.

megaphone-150254_1280There’s so much noise; there are so many entities clamouring for our attention. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, more news, more Tweets, blogs, emails and miscellaneous updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

Here’s what:

 

Quiet time…  Thinking time…  Silence…

 

 

[Humour me now.  Pause here… Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes. Take a few silent breaths before you continue…]

 

My coffeeDo you remember those precious moments when all you would do was sit back and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee; no TV or radio blabbering in the background; not trying to keep up with your emails, or your Twitter lists, or your WordPress reader; not collating information from other people’s blogs or scouring the Internet for wise words or quirky pictures to ‘share’; not scratching your forehead for something to ‘update’ your Facebook friends about; not squeezing in a quick post because you haven’t done one for three days and you’re so afraid that people will forget you exist, de-friend or unfollow you – for the heinous crime of… inactivity.

But here’s the thing…

We’re all of us culpable. We’re victims of the tsunami of informational white noise and the clutter of surplus data and opinion. But we are perpetrators too. We who blog and Tweet and upload our thoughts, pictures or videos; we who comment and  debate on forums, upload articles to LinkedIn; we who scour the Internet for stuff to reblog, repost and re-Tweet. All of us – we’re part of the problem.

We’re all afraid that if we don’t participate, producing content, opinion (I’m aware of the irony here) and feedback, that we will be insignificant and unheard. Invisible. So we shout ever louder, trying to make our voices rise above the white noise. Only, everyone else is shouting louder too.

And writers have an even more acute need to be heard above the noise…

We write with the sole purpose of getting our words out there. We create a story – a novel, perhaps – and we naturally want to share it with people. We want to be read. And – joy of joys – the advance of technology has provided us with the most perfect platform. Words are our tools of choice, and the Internet is the home of words.

So we’re all out there now, struggling to be heard. We jump up and down with our hands high, shouting ‘notice me… please notice me’. We strive to be the most resourceful, the most humorous, the most contentious, the most candid, the most unique. We try just to have something, anything, to say, even when we have no idea what to write. And when that happens, we post about the fact that we have no idea what to write. (Yes, you’ve done it, I’ve done it…), and in posting about nothing, we steal two minutes of everyone’s precious time for no legitimate benefit.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

So we shout louder. We blog more often, we share more frequently, we Tweet dozens of times a day – for that is what the people whose voices shout the loudest of all say we should do. We post about our thoughts and moods; we upload photographs of what we had for dinner or how pretty the moon looked last night – just for something to say.

But just as we’re doing it, so is everyone. So we’re forced into a never-ending cycle of checking, checking and checking again. What’s happening on our feeds and readers, in our in trays, our profiles and our accounts? We don’t want to miss out, get left behind, miss something fascinating that we could share, find ourselves scrolling back down miles of streamed… stuff.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

I wonder sometimes if aliens came from far away, and a far more advanced civilisation, what would they think as they approached Planet Earth? As they swept across the vast, silent universe towards us, when would they begin to hear the first hiss and crackle of our feverish ‘conversations’? What would they think as they drew closer and the volume soared to deafening proportions? What would they make of the incessant babble and clamour, everybody shouting, and nobody listening very much? What would they think of a society that fills its precious time so relentlessly with that babble and clamour?

What would they make of people, who, in their thirst for engagement, leave so little time and space for the purity of silence, self-reflection and contemplation?

inchydony-lightened.jpg

[One more time now. Before you move on to the next… whatever… Stop reading. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and silently, and think for a few minutes of… nothing. Nothing at all.]

Ten Terrific Things about This Morning #HappyFriday

sun-332141_1280 (3)There is pleasure and gratitude in the smallest of things…

  1. Of course… the solar eclipse – moving and elemental, even though in London it all went on above blanket cloud cover. It got a bit gloomy, then it brightened up again, but we all got very excited anyway
  2. It’s healthcheck time – despite the tonne of extra padding clinging to my midriff, all the important numbers still showed up on the right side of ‘normal’ – Phew!
  3. Depositing a cheque refunding my old car tax – getting money back from the Government always feels great
  4. A treat to self – a Costa Coffee Flat White and a toastie in a comfy chair by the window, with a new book…
  5. And the new book is… Floodline, by Kathryn Heyman
  6. No queue at the Post Office. Not even one person. How often do you get in and out of a post office in under 5 minutes?
  7. Buying flowers for my mother from my friend and favourite florist Jules at Flowerworks Uxbridge
  8. Discovering a yummy-scrumptious new snack: M&S Salt & Pepper Kale Crisps coated in cashew butter – but oh… oh… oh… at £2 a pop, the price isn’t right! Now, if I can only figure out how to make these myself
  9. Getting back to the car with 3 minutes to spare before my time ran out – one of life’s little triumphs
  10. Royalties!!! From Amazon CreateSpace – received with joy, and a great big thank-you to all the wonderful people who bought a paperback copy of Singled Out during February.

What… you mean you haven’t bought your copy of Singled Out yet? What are you waiting for?

Here’s where you can find it 😉

Small Beginnings

My coffeeI was having coffee with a friend yesterday afternoon in the lounge at the Runnymede Hotel, by the River Thames at Egham. It reminded me that in this very same room on Friday 26th March, 2010, I had given birth.

I’d gone there to meet my writing buddy. It was a few weeks after she and I had participated in our first Arvon Foundation writing course. We’d become friends and had begun to motivate one another to realise our shared ambition to write fiction. We decided to do a writing exercise, just for fun. You might think budding writers have a strange concept of fun – and you’d be right.

The lounge was crowded. Given its convenient location close to the M25, the Runnymede is always packed with earnest looking businesspeople engaging in earnest meetings or enduring even more earnest job interviews. As it was Friday there was a sprinkling of casually dressed early/long weekenders too and a few tables of smartly attired Ladies Who Lunch.

We decided for our exercise, to pick a person in the lounge and, armed with nothing more than the physical image and our imaginations, create a character for our respective novels. I should add neither of us had much more than 5,000 words under our belt at that point – barely more than an essay.

My friend took as her subject a youthful looking man wearing a friendship bracelet. But he was a keeper. Today, 3½ years later, he has a modest role – even a line or two of dialogue – in her story. I chose a man in his mid-fifties with thinning hair. His appearance was at odds with the sea of Hugo Boss and Paul Smith that surrounded him, and he looked uncomfortable as he sat alone in a room that hummed with animated conversation.

Henry entered the world after a very short labour – I think we allowed ourselves between 5 and 10 minutes for the exercise. I took the image and wrote a scene where, having arrived on holiday (that’s the holiday, where my story takes place), he emerges uncertainly on the first morning, into the glare of the sunlight and the scrutiny of his fellow guests. From those few lines – which have been edited but remain almost as they were first written – he’s a major character now. He’s evolved into a bit of a misfit and there is much about him that makes me squirm, but as he’s matured into his part and exerted his influence on the plot, my affection for him has grown.

Here’s the short piece I wrote back in March 2010, as it appears now in Singled Out. It isn’t the first time the reader meets Henry, but it was the first time that I met him:

Henry appeared, wearing a crumpled short-sleeved shirt. Hairless milk-white legs poked out beneath its hem and drew the eye reluctantly down to feet clad in scuffed sandals and, in the long tradition of the English by the sea, a pair of tired beige socks. Flabby buttocks had been squashed into a pair of Speedos and a frizz of grey hair peeked out from under a sunhat. He looked nervously around as he hovered by the edge of the pool then scrutinised the sky. Eventually he settled on the far side, away from James and Brenda and most of the others. She watched as he clattered a lounger then a parasol across the concrete to his desired spot before spreading a frayed bath towel to partially cover the bed. He extracted a bottle from his beach bag and slathered the contents on to his arms and legs. Finally he smeared a greasy sheen on to his face. He adjusted himself inside his Speedos, then squatted awkwardly on the edge of the lounger and rummaged in his bag, bringing out a dog-eared paperback…

Confession (aka Synopsis Crisis 2)

Synopsis crisis 1Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.  It’s been… aah… sorry about this… 14 days since my last confession blog post.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been committing myself to the task of getting my synopsis written, crafting a persuasive query letter and tweaking my first 10,000 words; all in a dramatic prelude (drum roll please…..) to submitting SINGLED OUT to an initial short list of literary agents.

It’s not quite ready yet, not through want of effort, I assure you. But in my less creatively energetic moments, I’ve also drafted an impressive spreadsheet listing all the agents I plan to contact, with their submission instructions and a few other essential details, all gleaned from agency websites.  Some might accuse me of optimism (oh, go on…), but there are just four agents on the list at this stage, all recommended to me by my mentor, which is a gift for which I’m absurdly grateful. This is where it all begins.

But first, I need the perfect synopsis.  And I’ve discovered that writing the perfect synopsis is a bit like looking for the perfect man. Yes, girls, you get it, don’t you?

So my synopsis is presentable in parts and pretty hopeless in other parts.  I’m trying to change him it but it’s proving a tough job.  There is a wealth of advice on writing synopses in the ranks of ‘how to’ books on my bookshelf and on the internet – and plenty of it is sound, sensible advice too.  I’m trying to follow it – but I think I’m trying too hard.  In all honesty, I’m making a bit of a job of it.

In the process, I’ve drunk my way through two jars of instant and 16 capsules of Tassimo Carte Noire Latte Macciato (yum) and even – the day my stomach became inexplicably crampy, probably due to stress m’lud (or maybe too much caffeine) – three peppermint teabags.  Yes, I know, I told you I hate tea – and I do.  But peppermint tea is more like drinking a Polo Mint and it was good for my withered digestive system, so I suffered it.

But I digress.

Each agent very helpfully puts submission instructions on their websites.  They want a query letter or email – that’s fine.  Actually that wasn’t too hard to write given my [mumble number of] years in sales and marketing work.  It has to be modified for each agent, but it’s as complete as it needs to be for now. They want the first 10,000 words, three chapters or 50 pages – that’s fine too.  It’s all much the same thing and once you’re happy with the content, you just need to cut-and-paste into a document topped with your contact details. But then there’s the synopsis… 300 words… 1,000-1,500 words… one or two pages… ‘brief’…  So, more than one version then.

Taking some good advice and paying a deal of attention to an interesting online workshop in free pdf format from Mslexia here, (for which many thanks sandradan1), I started with a 25-word elevator pitch.  Okay, so it was a scratch over 40 words.  But it fits the bill, and it helped me focus.  I graduated from there to the 300 word version which, with more help than I would have liked to have needed, is now complete.  Next… The Big One – character detail, motivations, inciting incidents, tipping points, trials and tribulations, tension and triumph – phew!  My first draft was a car crash and my second wandered into a maze of detail and never came out.  But, armed with a short version I’m now happy with, I have more confidence in draft number three.  There’s a faint hope that the process will be less like being hung upside down by my fingernails over a pit of vipers, and output more… forthcoming.

If somebody had said that writing a 1,000 word (or thereabouts) synopsis of your work will be harder than writing the 97,000 words itself, I’d probably have laughed confidently in their faces.  I’m a writer after all, aren’t I?  I’ve written dozens of business proposals, white papers and case studies, summarised entanglements of technical hogwash, edited endless articles and cut swathes from wordy websites.  A synopsis is just another job, isn’t it?

Not so, when you want nothing more in your whole life, than to be taken on by an agent, find a publisher for your first novel, and enjoy the privilege of spending the third phase of your working life immersed in fiction.  Not so at all.

A Coffee Break Story: Food for Thought in Brussels

I write short stream-of-consciousness fiction for one of my marketing clients. These stories are light-hearted vignettes with a mini marketing message at the end. They go down well on their blog and in the newsletter, so I’m told. That’s what you want from your marketing material, isn’t it? That people look forward to receiving it.

Here’s the latest effort. It’s not a work of literary genius, just a bit of fun.

Brussels 20kYou don’t know what you don’t know, do you? Little surprises in life wait around every corner. So when I skipped across to Brussels on the Eurostar last weekend to enjoy a little freebie open-air jazz at the Brussels Jazz Marathon, I didn’t expect to find myself being challenged by an army of fierce racers and fun-runners. But you have to take these things in your stride – no pun intended – don’t you?

It was a last minute thing. Check the weather, check it again, and then check it again. It rains a lot in Brussels. Even for an aficionado, it’s no joy perching on a plastic chair, drinking rain-diluted beer from a plastic cup in the drizzle, no matter who’s on stage. On Friday I wasn’t going to take the risk, but then the clouds parted and the little suns began to appear on the forecast, and all of a sudden, it seemed like a cool way to pass a couple of days. So I grabbed a room on Lastminute.com and a seat on the train, and it was all systems go.

Do you know Brussels? It’s a surprising place. If you’re in the trade, like I am, you can’t help but think of all those petty bureaucrats in their shiny offices with lines of international flags outside and fountains soaring into the air. You think of these guys spending day after day thinking up ways to make your life more difficult. You wonder what trading rule or cross-border regulation are they going to change today. What was I happily doing yesterday with my shipments or my paperwork, that comes with a hefty fine today? What are they going to do with our sausages, or our bananas, or my container load of merchandise from Malaysia this week? What carelessly worded line on a manifest is going to set them baying for my blood? It’s too much. I can’t deal with the stress any more – I have to find an easier way …

But I digress.

Saturday afternoon saw me up at the Sablon, in the shadow of the Notre Dame church. The beer was good, the jazz tap dancing – interesting. More fun was the steaming bowl of moules-et-frites and crusty bread with lashings of butter, followed by the mountain of crepes, cream and syrup. You have to do these things in Brussels, don’t you? Stuffed to the gills, I took a very slow stroll down to the Grand Place, pausing for a chocolate fix at one – or was it two – of those little shops that waft their cocoa-sticky aromas out the doors at you. Well, you can’t come to Brussels and not buy chocolate, can you? It’s like the beer – a hundred different flavours and every one of them delicious. You have to embrace the experience, I say.

But I made it eventually, at a very slow amble. And I have to admit, even with the sound stage cramping its style, the Grand Place looked amazing – all those gargoyles, gold-leaf and cobbles are quite a draw. I grabbed a chair and settled in for the evening. The stage dwarfed most of the acts, but the music was cool, and the atmosphere – well, that was warm, despite the unseasonal temperatures. A thousand people wrapped up in scarves and gloves – not quite what you’d hope for from a May weekend – but still managing to enjoy the show. And, well, you have to buy the beers, to keep hold of your chair. So I kept on buying. And on. And on.

Sunday morning, it took me a while to surface. I think that last beer I had might have been a bit off. Best way to shake it is a big plate of breakfast, I thought. So I wandered back up towards the Sablon and found a place. Eggs, hams, cheeses, an eruption of breads and spreads and a couple of bowls of piping hot hot chocolate. It had to be done, and it was delicious. But it lay in my gut like a slab of concrete and when I finally levered myself out the door, all I wanted to do was find a bench to sit on.

I heard it long before I saw it. It seeped into my consciousness as I sat in the square wondering how long I had to wait before it became a respectable hour to go grab a beer. I knew the jazz didn’t start up until the afternoon, and that was way back down in the Grand Place anyway. So the sound of drums, a funny rumbling, and a whole load of cheering was puzzling to say the least. I hauled myself to my feet to investigate, and followed the sound. And then I saw it… a bunch of drummers drumming and a gazillion people (37,000 to be more precise) crunching the pavement. As I drew closer the rumbling grew louder – it was the weirdest sound. If you ever saw me, you’d know why I’m unfamiliar with the sounds of a race day. If you, like me, have never stood by the side of a road race before – or much less run in one – you wouldn’t immediately recognise it. It was the noise of thousands of feet trampling thousands of water bottles underfoot – the endless, thunderous crumping, squelching, crackling mass, and the river of blue plastic, rising to cover the cobbles. It was surreal.

I salute you people, honestly I do – you go with your running. Hit the streets, beat your times, raise your charity money – I’m all for it. But I’m not the running type. I’m the sitting on a chair listening to jazz type. A plastic chair will do, but an armchair is better. Even so, this Sunday morning freight train of runners and their river of water bottles– I hate to admit it – tweaked at my guilty conscience.

Lean bodies, trim waists, muscular quads, and that intense, focussed look in their eyes – thousands of them, the very epitome of fitness and good health. You even have to admire the ones dressed like spacemen and gorillas, out for a bit of fun. Would I run 20k in a gorilla suit? I have to be honest, if I ran 20k in my own body it would probably feel as if I were running in a gorilla suit. Right now 2k would be a stretch. As wave after wave of intense racers and their fun-running compatriots washed past, crumping their water bottles and showering the bystanders, my stomach protested the excesses of my breakfast with a long, deep rumble, an indelicate belch and an unwelcome stab of heartburn.

So it’s fair to say that this little jazz jaunt to Brussels got me thinking on a couple of fronts. The music was great, but that wasn’t the game- changer. It was the runners – they did it for me. I decided it’s time for me to take action. It’s time to dust off the pedometer, sign up to a gym and buy myself a new pair of jogging pants – a bigger pair. It’s time to wave a fond farewell to fries and beer, crepes and chocolate and too much bread at breakfast time. Getting fit would help with the stress – and there was something else that could help with that too. I need to give those guys at CCL a call, see if they can’t do a better job of getting me and my shipments through the minefield of Brussels bureaucracy, than I can.

In praise of Costa

My coffeeI had some retail therapy to attend to, so I headed into Uxbridge early this morning. I fancied kicking off the day in my local Costa Coffee, loading up with caffeine before attacking the shops. I took my writing practice notepad since mornings are my time for this new habit. Fifteen minutes on ‘a jewel’ and I was done – not one of my more inspired mornings, I admit.

At 08:30 and before the shops open, Costa Coffee is a haven, comfortable and subdued; a few early customers like myself, but none of the hectic crush that a busy shopping Saturday will later bring. The counter service was cheery, my Americano strong and delicious, my toastie crisp yet gooey and brought to my table. Seal’s Kiss from a Rose was the first track on the playlist I noticed and it was followed by a swell of Central Perk style mid-market soft rock. All very nice and right up my street.

The minutes nudged towards 09:00 and the business of beverage was well underway. Coffee machines whizzed, clanked and hissed, plates and cups clattered, the fridge displays rattled and the air conditioning hummed – all composing a vibrant mechanical backing track that was not at all unpleasant. Conversations ebbed and flowed – regulars acknowledging each other, friends meeting up, two guys behind newspapers sharing occasional observations, someone debating the climate of gun crime in South Africa; several accents in English, a chatter of Polish I think, perhaps from behind the counter.

A blast of chill air funnelled round from the door every time someone entered – I don’t mind this either since I’m at that age when I seem perpetually to feel too warm. A man came in, wrapped in a donkey jacket and woolly hat, a young girl grabbing a take-out cup, another swaddled in fake fur; a young mother struggling with a push-chair adorned with colourful toys, a teen in skinny jeans and giant headphones that looked like earmuffs.

What is it about the aroma of fresh coffee and toast? It takes me to a place of comfort and warmth, of pleasure in small things, of calm contentment. Of all the myriad coffee shops where I live – and there are too many – Costa is my favourite. I love the cosy burgundy/brown decor, the fact that there’s always somewhere to sit, upstairs if not downstairs – if you can survive the giant spiral staircase without decanting your beverage on to unsuspecting customers below. I’m not somebody who shows up every day, only every once in a while, but when I do, Costa rewards me with a heartening half-hour.

Twas the Night Before Christmas…

OK, so we’re warming up for Christmas now, aren’t we?  And I’ve been absolutely busted – run off my feet for weeks with no time to write. But I thought this seasonal tale might stand a re-run on the blog.  It’s another of the commercial ‘Coffee Break Stories’, which I write for one of my clients. This story and others like it go into their regular newsletters alongside the more formal newsy items.  People seem to enjoy a little levity and the stories put across the friendly face of this business, Customs Clearance Ltd.  The caveat… these are not works of literary genius – they are meant for fun.

This one is about a mysterious visitor who came to their offices on Christmas Eve, needing a helping hand…

I’m glad I was the first one to the office that morning – the morning after the night before – know what I mean?  I’m the boss (so they tell me), and hangover or no hangover, well, you just have to be at your desk on time, don’t you? The morning after the staff party.  Even if it is Christmas Eve.  If only to quietly note who else makes it in on time, and more to the point, who doesn’t….

Anyway, I pulled up outside at around 10 minutes before 9, and as I rounded the corner aiming for my usual parking space, I had to slam on the brakes.  There, straddling no less than ten parking spaces, including my own, was the biggest, hugest, brightest, shiniest, fanciest looking sleigh, I’d ever seen.  Well, to be honest, I haven’t actually ever seen a sleigh before in real life – just the odd one on the telly, usually round about this time of year.  But it was a pretty spectacular sight. I parked in next-door’s spot, hoping they would understand, and climbed out of the car.

Anyhow, this sleigh – think of it a bit like a very large horse-and-carriage, but with runners instead of wheels.  And…. well… reindeer instead of a horse.  Actually, I counted them, and there were twelve in all, resplendent in fine polished tack, each one bearing reins weighed down with line after line of little golden bells.  The noise was quite extraordinary – jingling bells, snorting reindeer, their breath freezing in the cold morning air, their hooves clattering against the concrete – and the gentle hum of rush-hour traffic in the background.

Anyhow, those reindeer – I noticed the one at the front seemed to have a very rosy nose – were just quietly resting, and I looked around for the driver (is that what you call somebody who steers a sleigh?).  I didn’t see him at first as he was under the porch.  But then he turned around and spotted me and with a big, booming “Ho!” he smiled broadly and waved in my direction.

My, he was a big fella, there’s no doubt about it. And he wasn’t exactly quietly dressed either.  I imagine he makes a bit of an entrance wherever he goes.  I know it was a bit nippy this morning, but even I could see he was just a little overdressed.  A big red jacket, all flumped up around the collar and cuffs with the whitest fur, matching red trousers (all a bit showy in my opinion but my wife and her friends would probably call it ‘over-coordinated’), tucked into the glossiest pair of wellington boots I’d seen for a very long time.  A wide, shiny black belt was doing its best to keep a line of bright gold buttons from popping right open.  For goodness sake, he even had a matching hat – a great floppy thing with a bobble!  He was a massive, beardy giant of a man, with rosy cheeks and a huge smile, but he bounded towards me like a puppy and embraced me in a huge warm hug.

He was too fast for me – I had to go with it.  There really wasn’t time to stick out my arm for a professional handy-shaky moment.  So there I was in the car park, being literally embraced, by this bubbly, laughing, larger-than-life chap in a red suit.

“Boy, am I glad to see you!” he boomed, when I finally managed to extract myself from his grip.  “I’ve got myself into a bit of a pickle and I need some help.”

I unlocked the front door and showed him in.  I offered him a mug of coffee, which he gladly accepted, then sat him down.  He seemed to fill the room, and he chuckled and grinned as he explained his predicament.

It seems he had an important shipment in progress and the deliveries all had to be made that night.  He had packages for just about everywhere in the world, all piled up on the back of that sleigh in the car park.  They were for children mostly, and that’s why he didn’t want to let them down.  But he’d been speaking with HM Revenue and Customs and they’d been insisting on him completing a mass of forms before he could move these packages around the world.  He didn’t look like the form-filling kind to me, and indeed, it seems this task was proving to be something of a nightmare for him.  He handed over a file bursting with crumpled sheets of paper.  It was obvious he’d lost the plot a bit with the forms but the customs guys weren’t going to let him get away with it, even though he was apparently doing all the deliveries himself.

He asked me, could I help.  Well of course!  It’s what we do, here at Customs Clearance Ltd.  No job to small – no job too big.  Customs clearance for imports and customs clearance for exports too.  I crossed my fingers though – because he kept on saying how really, very, vitally important it was that he could get all the paperwork processed today, so he could make his deliveries that night.

He was a really lovely guy – quite bubbling over with enthusiasm and good cheer.  Even considering the urgent nature of his job, he wasn’t fretting – in fact he kept chuckling quietly to himself and muttering something under his breath.  When I asked him to repeat himself, he simply said, “That plane you got from me when you were six must have made quite an impression!”… I didn’t understand what he was going on about, so I let it go.

Anyhow, with his warmth and joviality, he made me want to help him, and I quite forgot my hangover.  And as the staff slowly drifted into the office (ok, I’m minded to be generous, do I really want to be making an issue about a few minutes lateness on a day like this?).  In the end, everybody pitched in and we got all the forms on the system and processed.  The big fella in the red outfit was thrilled to bits.  He rustled up a tin of mince pies for the workers and dispensed rather too much mulled wine for my liking, but he made a lot of friends that day and put a smile on all our faces.  And when he went on his way as it began to get dark, there was a definite twinkle in his eye.