Public Speaking is widely touted as being one of the top three fears that people have. It ranks up there with death of a loved one and terrorist attacks  — and well ahead of clowns.

So why did I join Toastmasters when we first moved to Australia?

Mostly it was to meet new people and to try to form connections, both personally and professionally. But it was also my all-or-nothing go at overcoming the shyness I tended to feel when speaking to strangers.

Right from the first meeting I had to work on overcoming the shaking hands, dry mouth and elevated heart-rate that arrived unfailingly every week – but I kept going. Feedback from people who had no vested interest in anything but my ability to speak in public was tremendously useful. I learned to ensure that my prepared project speeches addressed project criteria succinctly, to pace my delivery, and to be able to respond to impromptu topics or questions even when the subject matter was something I knew nothing about.

Much to my surprise, despite being quietly terrified every single time I stood up to speak, it was fun. The techniques for coping with delivering presentations and managing public speaking-related stress proved invaluable and I carried on going to meetings for a number years.

In due course and after conquering various speech challenges, taking part in competitions and so forth, I eventually moved on to other things – but I wasn’t ready to get rid of my file of prepared speeches and very insightful feedback reports, so I stashed the file in a cupboard for later.

Later happened this weekend. My study was due for a clear out and, in the process of sorting, tidying and binning, I unearthed the file… and had to decide whether to just chuck the whole lot out or to have a look. Predictably, curiosity won out.

Although the content is twenty years old, some of it still resonated — so I thought I might share one or two and see what people think 🙂

This one was my first ‘advanced’ TM speech. Entitled Get Personal, the speech objectives are: (1) to learn the elements of a good story,  and (2) to create and tell and original story based on a personal experience. Time: 6 – 8 minutes.

So: are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin

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There’s nothing like it

A perfect day. Clear skies, not too hot, and a steady 15-knot wind. What more could a novice windsurfing enthusiast hope for?

In a flurry of enthusiasm I rallied the troops, getting the children organised and hauling my younger brothers (who were staying with us at the time) out of bed. Next I rushed around like a headless chook, packing the car with the essentials: sailboard, picnic and muscle power (the brothers, B & R), then off we went. A day of fun at on the water was less than an hour away…

I’d only been on a windsurfer three or four times before, but I was your archetypal enthusiastic beginner: incredibly keen… but not very competent! I was at that (unfortunate) stage of being able to get a sailboard run with the wind… but turning round and coming back still posed something of a challenge!

After what seemed like an age, we were finally there and unpacked. Once the board was rigged: sail taut, mast secured and fin attached, I dibsed first turn. Squelching out through the muddy shallows, I stepped up onto the board and tipped the sail forward. Ignoring B & R,  who were standing knee-deep in the water behind me chorusing Don’t go too far out! You need to PRACTICE those turns…, I set off across the lake – the wind in my hair, the flies in my teeth, a grin from ear to ear. THIS was freedom! THIS was sheer exhilaration…

After a while I realised just how far I’d gone… oh-oh … time to turn around….
Now, how does it work again??: sail forward? NO! That makes it go faster!
Try sail back? Ooops…… Ka-splosh!

Wrong  choice!

That was the start of a long, frustrating and totally exhausting struggle to get back to shore. Water logged, I scrambled onto the board… got to my feet… pulled the sail up… got my balance… moved the sail….
Ka-splosh!
Right… Clambered onto the board… staggered to my feet… hauled the sail out of the water… slipped on the wet board… Ka-splosh!

And rinse and repeat, until I couldn’t think coherently past the sound of my heart racing… and tears weren’t far off.

What I didn’t know is that my brothers had been taking a keen interest in my activities, watching anxiously from the shore as I drifted further and further away. After a while it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make it back without help. So they flipped a coin as to who’d stay onshore to keep an eye on the children and who’d get the thankless task of swimming out to rescue me.

By this stage I’d given up to have a rest and was lying full length on the board, shivering, wheezing and oblivious to anything but my own sorry state of affairs. So my surprise and delight when a wet (and slightly abusive) younger brother popped his head over the edge of the board was heartfelt. Hero status immediately awarded!

Okay, Nik, you sit on the back and DON’T move: I’ll sail us in, okay?
I sat.

R – a regular and competent board sailor, effortlessly plucked the sail out of the water, turned the board and headed for shore. I sat on the back of the board like a stranded, bedraggled, miserable mermaid.

And it must have been these thoughts that caused me to move — ever so slightly — and catapult us both back into the water!

Even worse, there was no time to avoid the descending boom. It came flying towards me, hitting me squarely on the bridge of the nose as we exploded off the board.

Panic!
I didn’t know which way was up and had a blinding pain in my head. I kicked desperately, hoping to find the surface. The water was cold and murky, and the weeds seemed to wrap themselves around my legs as I struggled to get away.

Finally my head broke the surface and I drew in a giant breath as I was hauled up onto the board like so much limp washing.

Sit still and put that on your face!
R thrust his wet tee-shirt at me and started paddling frantically for shore. Bemused I put the tee-shirt up to my face, pulled it away and looked at it. It was covered in blood… MY blood.

B had been watching the action from the shore and, with rare anticipation, had grabbed all the picnic gear, flung it in the back of the car and strapped the children into their car seats. Then he raced down to the waters edge to help carry me and the board in.

After that things became somewhat confusing for a while.  The boys rushed me to the emergency ward of the local hospital, where people asked lots of questions that seemed totally irrelevant and got me to sign forms, so many forms, in triplicate.

It turned out that the sharp edge of the boom had made a deep ragged gash across the bridge of my nose and, just to make my day, x-rays showed that the force of the blow had actually also broken my nose. Luckily the break was a clean one and there was no displacement, so my nose didn’t have to be realigned.
Whew.

But I did have to have the obligatory anti-tetanus shot and the gash had to be stitched. The duty doctor injected a local anaesthetic into the wound, which was an eye-wateringly painful experience.  Then the stitching started – and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like without  the local anaesthetic!

By the time I left the hospital a couple of hours later my face had started to swell, my eyes were puffy and looked like I’d gone at least a couple of rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. Not a pretty sight.

The brothers were very kind. They minded the children, drove me home, made me tea and waited until I was safely settled on my bed with an ice pack on the swelling before saying ‘I told you so!’ in many and different ways. They read big sister the riot act about being irresponsible, which was such a role reversal that it was almost – but not quite – funny.

All of the week that followed, as the swelling gradually went down and the bruises on my face went through all the colours of the rainbow, I thought about what they had said and about what had happened. I felt silly — and my nose hurt A LOT, which re-enforced the silly-feeling. But I was determined it wouldn’t stop me from sailing. I’d learn how to turn that board so that I would never get stuck and have to be rescued again!

So, the next weekend, I was out on the water again – battered and bruised, looking like the walking wounded, practising turn after turn after turn, until I had it just right. Then I was off — flying across the water:  a plume of spray behind me — and a wealth of windsurfing ahead 🙂

Last weekend we took the parents up to Gallifrey Forrest Farm to commune with the wildlife (hens and geese and ducks and quail and guinea fowl and cats), and to marvel at the progress that’s been achieved on the propriety over the past 12 months. So many trees have been planted, projects started and others completed – it’s well worth marvelling over.

After tucking into a delicious afternoon tea of fresh fruit from the Swan Valley, along with soft and sticky chocolate brownies and cupcakes made by DaughterDearest, it was time for the grand tour. This is when things got unnecessarily interesting…

One of the less cat-aware visitors slid a door open to step outside, blithely oblivious to the streak of grey lighting headed his way. Cat#1, widely known for her uber-escapologist skills, made her usual flying dash for the door… and chaos ensued.

This cat is both much-loved and rather valuable breeding stock, so she’s never allowed outdoors other than on a harness and lead. So everyone converged on the escapey-cat, with loud cries of shut the door! and aaargh! and No, Cloud!. Since I was sitting closest to the door, I leapt to my feet to tackle said cat and/or shove the door closed. In my haste I managed to get my feet tangled in a little rug, conveniently placed just inside the door for people to wipe their feet on.

Chaos ramped up a notch as I crashed to the ground in spectacular fashion, landing solidly on the pointy bit of my right knee. Fortunately, I missed both cat and door – she’d leapt out of the way and the door had been slammed closed in the nick of time to thwart her escape attempt.

Once things settled down, the grand tour resumed – but it seemed wiser for me to stay put and tuck into the remaining chocolate brownies and a cup of restorative tea. My knee had started to swell quite alarmingly and, although the brownies and tea were lovely, the icepacks, anti-inflammatory gel and elevation helped not in the slightest.

By the time we were ready to leave it was pretty clear that walking up to the car was right out. After some conferring, K (the resident Eagle Scout) and Himself (my go-to guy in all things) came up with a cunning plan: a two-handed seat carry.

This involved positioning themselves one on each side of me, passing their arms behind and under my thighs, grasping each other’s wrists firmly, and then lifting me. In effect I was sitting balanced on their crossed over wrists, wedged up against their bodies. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was very effective.

In short order I was stashed in the vehicle and we were off on our hour-long journey back to Perth to drop off the parents, then on to the local hospital. There I spent four exceptionally long hours waiting (a lot), gritting my teeth (a lot), snivelling (far too much), undergoing triage (a fancy word for a first-stage medical assessment), being issued with paracetamol/codeine tablets for pain relief (eventually), examined and sent for x-rays.

In due course the attending physio informed me that I have a fractured patella. This, by the way, is a remarkably painful injury and one I whole-heartedly do not recommend putting on your bucket list!

I was fitted with a removable (hot, heavy, padded) leg brace to immobilise my knee and told that I’d need to be on crutches for a while. The physio recommended a lot of lying down and that I should keep the weight off my knee for the next week. After that, she said, I’d be reassessed at the fracture clinic and we’d ‘go from there’ (whatever that means). Thinks wistfully of magic wands…

So far it’s been a long week (for everyone). My audiobook library is a little depleted, I’ve caught up on my current knitting projects, and discovered that sharing the bed with a couple of anxious dogs who want to be close all the time has its moments. All things considered, I think I’ll leave rescuing Miss Cloud to others in future! 😛

The last time I caught up with Sibling#3 in person was in 2011 when we travelled around Scotland and Ireland together. That turned out to be fun, so we decided we’d give it another go. This time we chose a destination a little closer to home (for me, at least): Tasmania.

Starting out in Hobart, we meandered around the island for 10 days. Many kilometres, a good deal of walking, lots of sightseeing and even more talking found us circling back to our starting point. A take-home tip for those considering a similar trip: Tasmania is often wet – then surprisingly sunny – then wet… (and so on), so pack a good quality rain jacket and make sure it’s one that has a hood. You’ll use it!

Our adventures took us to waterfalls, lakes, rocky outcrops, rivers and berry farms. In the first few days we went up Mount Wellington, had breakfast and browsed the stalls at Salamanca Markets, picnicked alongside the historic Richmond Bridge and spent hours viewing the fascinating installations at MONA .

Richmond Bridge

An afternoon at the 69th annual Huon Show was an unexpected addition to the itinerary, but provided plenty of local entertainment. I was particularly taken with the wood chopping competitions, a troupe of very interactive acrobats, an exhilarating demonstration of tent-pegging by the Tasmanian Lighthorse and a variety of livestock displays. Sibling#3 was a little surprised at this spur-of-the-moment agricultural show option, but was happy enough to trudge around in the intermittent drizzle and watch me pat goats and dogs (with some amusement).

Huon Show

We visited Mount Field National Park, Russell Falls, Queenstown, Strahan, cruised out on the Gordon River, ate delicious (!) chocolate-coated raspberries, went for a walk at Dove Lake (Cradle Mountain) and stayed overnight at Lake St Clair. The last two were particularly interesting as they’re gave me some insights into the 65km Overland Track that family and friends hiked back in 2013. I was impressed at the time, guys, and even more so after being there myself – and realising that you did some of that hike in the snow!

Lake St Clair / Cradle Mountain

Our final few days took us to Launceston, the Freycinet Peninsula, Swansea, Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur before we finally returned to Hobart. Highlights of this section were the vast array of roses at Endelhome Grange and the delicious raspberry pie at Kate’s Berry Farm (after a boat trip out to Wineglass Bay).

Raspberry pie at Kate's Berry Farm

There was a whole lot more to the trip, including our daily hunt for last minute accommodation when we decided it was that time of day. This was occasionally a tad fraught, particularly when Sibling#3’s navigation system (nick-named Susan, for some reason) took us to a number of rather out-of-the way bed-and-breakfast places. A few of these seemed highly implausible – little or no signage and no-one obviously in attendance. A couple of these looked as though they might have potential for duelling banjos in the cowshed – although that may have been the time of day, hunger and tiredness talking. Either way, Sibling#3 and Susan were politely requested to suggest alternatives rather speedily!

Sibling#3 at Freycinet Peninsula

We survived (sometimes despite Susan) and spent a few days together with the rest of the family before Sibling#3 headed home to RSA. I wonder where our next catch-up will be…

I was up at the crack of dawn yesterday to do some baking for an event at our place. I test-baked an apple/hazelnut cake a couple of weeks ago, replacing hazelnut meal with macadamia meal – because that’s what I had in the pantry (doesn’t everyone?). It turned out pretty well (the texture and taste of the macadamia meal simply delicious) and I was pretty confident that it’d work out okay the second time around too… but, just in case, I prepared a simple vanilla/apple teacake to pop into the other oven as a back-up plan. It never hurts to be a bit over-prepared – and the guests usually eat every last crumb anyway 🙂

I find baking very relaxing – particularly when the house is quiet – and my mind soon drifted onto other things as I pottered away. I measured and mixed, stepping over and around the ever-hungry scrounge that is our puppy and thought about my daughter, fast asleep in the back bedroom. On Friday she received notification that the house that she and her partner have been working towards and dreaming of for so long is finally theirs. From land purchase though design, planning approvals and – most particularly – bank shenanigans, it’s been a long haul for them. The past week in particular had been fraught with anxiety as to whether the house would pass muster, resulting in the funds being released to the builders (by the ever-nit-picky bank). It did – and they both positively glowed as they gave us the news that night – and many spontaneous happy dances of bouncy joy and group hugs ensued. Such happiness all round.

After camping in two rooms at our place for the past 10 months, with a minimum of personal belongings to hand (the rest being in storage), they’re more than ready to move into their own space again. Unpacking all their belongings, sorting through them and rediscovering things they haven’t seen in months will be a bit like Christmas morning. They’ll be able to move their kittens into a whole house (instead of a small cat run), set up chook pens for their gaggle of poultry and plant out the vast array of trees and plants that have waiting in pots outside our front windows. It’s going to be great fun to watch the next stage of their Gallifrey dream take shape and to help out where we can.

Thinking about their unfolding adventure made me reflect on my own dreams and aspirations – and to contemplate where I’m up to with those. Just over a year ago I attended a workshop entitled How to Become a Must-Read Author. The rather ambitious title set the expectations of the attendees fairly high – and  Rachael didn’t disappoint. She entertained and inspired the crowd of writers and would-be entrepreneurs very effectively, telling her personal rags-to-riches story in an inclusive and forthright way, tossing in random humorous anecdotes to lighten things up and to retain audience attention. It was a very polished performance and went a long way to showing why she’s so successful. My friend Karen and I were both quite impressed and came away determined to move forward with our respective book projects, utilising Rachael’s write-a-book-in-12-weeks as incentive to do so.

Part of this 12-week process was to focus on our key objectives for the next couple of years. There are any number of ways to undertake this sort of exercise, but I found mind-mapping worked surprisingly well as a first stage. I wrote down all the things I could think of that I’d like to do, see, be or achieve – no matter how implausible. Then I grouped them into categories and looked at those in an attempt to see what bigger picture I was trying to paint for myself. From there I moved on to hunting down some pictures to represent the various categories and put together a vision board, printed it out and stuck it up in my study to act as motivation to achieve those vision board 2014objectives.

I’m not sure that having the print out on the back of my door helped in any real sense, since that sort of affirmation isn’t generally something that spurs me on. What was valuable, however, was the exercise of creating the vision board. It focused my attention on my wants and needs in a positive and proactive way. It made me actively consider how I could achieve the outcomes I wanted, rather than just dreaming about them.

So what have I achieved since then? It doesn’t feel like an awful lot, really – not until I stop and take an objective look at the past year. In reality, each of the key objectives on my two-year vision board has been addressed to some extent. From saving money to kitchen renovations, exercise to travel, hobbies to getting a puppy, completing my memoir to spending more time relaxing with people who matter to me – the current round of hopes and dreams is well on the way to being realised. Perhaps now that our house will be a little quieter, it’ll be time to set about a new round of mind-mapping and to come up with a whole new round of hopes and dreams to aim for.

raleigh bike.pgI was given my first bike when I was eight years old. It was shiny and black and a source of endless delight – not to mention unrivaled freedom.  It had no gears or hand brakes, but as I didn’t know any better, neither of these were an issue. What it did have was rather nifty mudguards (soon removed for convenience and speed) and simple back-pedal (or coaster) brakes that were dead easy to use. That little Raleigh bike was my most beloved possession from the very first day, despite crashing headfirst into a hedge down the road on my initial solo attempt at riding it!

From thereon out I had any number of adventures, big and small, wherever my wheels could take me. One of the more dramatic of these adventures started out very low key. My friend Felicity and I were about 10 years old at the time and, unlike many of the youth of today, we were assumed to be both capable and independent. Parents weren’t informed of our movements, we just trotted off on our merry way. As long as we were back by dinnertime and there was no obvious damage to explain, we were left to our own devices. In this instance we had planned a trip to the local shopping centre to hunt for Christmas gifts. It was a distance of about 2.5km and we knew from experience that this took about 30 minutes on foot, about 10 minutes by trolley bus, or about 12 minutes by bicycle. Ever the staunch Scot, I opted to save the bus fare and rode my bike up the (very steep!) hill to meet Felicity as she hopped off the bus.

Some time later, after purchasing what knickknacks our pocket money could afford and enjoying an iced confection in the park, we headed for home – Felicity hanging out the back of the trolley bus and me in hot pursuit on my trusty bike. I’d grown quite a bit in the couple of years I’d had the bike and it had become a little worn in that time. My brothers had taught me to fix punctures and how to put the chain back on when it inevitably came off, but they still did the tricky things like adjusting the seat height since this involved enough physical strength to tighten the nuts and bolts. Or so I’d always assumed…

As I careered down the hill in hot pursuit of the trolley bus, laughing like crazy and taking the sorts of risks that ten year olds do, it never occurred to me that anything could go wrong. Not until the trolley bus stopped a little sooner than I expected and, when I tried to slam the brakes on by back pedaling desperately, my feet came off the pedals!  The seat had tilted back rather dramatically as I applied emergency pressure on the brakes and it was pretty obvious that the saddle was, in fact, not properly secured. I was left clutching the handlebars, my behind only centimetres from the back wheel, my legs akimbo to avoid the chain and the wheels.

coasterbrakeNow, the thing you need to know about back-pedal brakes is that pushing back on the pedals forces a set of brake pads to expand inside the hub on the back wheel. Friction then slows the wheel down very efficiently. The downside is that your feet actually have to be on the pedals for this to work – and there’s no backup plan if they’re not. My feet were nowhere near the pedals at this point, having slipped off when the saddle tipped backwards and tried to deposit me on the rapidly rotating back wheel. All I had was precarious balance and a grip of death on the handlebars.

Felicity’s face told me that she fully expected me to slam into the back of the bus at any moment and, considering the rate at which I was bearing down on it, this seemed extremely likely. Immediate evasive action was called for and instinct took over. I swerved out from behind the bus – narrowly missing both it and the on coming station wagon, then swerved back onto my side of the road just as the bus started off again. All this time I was trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to haul myself back onto or over the saddle so that I could get my feet back on the pedals.

I whizzed down the steepest part of the hill and into the long sweeping curve towards the intersection, hoping with every part of me that the traffic lights would be in my favour and that there would be no oncoming traffic. My luck held, the road started to level out, and my speed dropped enough for me to risk the rapid dismount. I leapt clear of my bike whilst keeping hold of the handlebars and running alongside it. It was, after all, my treasure!

We careered to a halt, narrowly missing being clipped by the bus as it trundled past, and fell into an inelegant and only slightly grazed pile right near the bus stop. Felicity made a flying exit from back  of the still-moving bus and rushed to my assistance. Between us we managed to drag my bike to the verge, and then collapsed in a heap, laughing and whooping with the joy of being alive and being 10 years old and invulnerable. There being no actual damage, the parents were never the wiser – but I closely supervised any maintenance of my bike done by others after that!

Bicycles have been part of my landscape since that very first machine. I’ve had racing bikes, mountain bikes, a BMX bike, static exercise bikes and a hybrid bike. They’ve varied in colour from black to pink; silver to blue – but all (except the static bikes) have provided me with unsurpassed levels of independence, adventure and enjoyment. I still ride whenever I can – and every time I see someone else on a bike – whatever their age or gender, whether they’re wearing cutoffs or lycra, barefoot or in expensive cycle shoes – I smile. Rock on, riders, be free!

1975_nik

On a borrowed racing bike, 1975