The distinguished gentleman stood to deliver his vote of thanks at the end of my talk.
“I am, no doubt, the only person in this room who has seen Neil totally naked!” he said, to looks of surprise from the mixed audience.
He qualified his comments very quickly, explaining that he had actually been my family doctor for over twenty years!
Retiring from Sussex Police in 2008 after thirty years, I was really looking forward to working on a casual basis at police recruit assessment centres.
Sadly, the 2010 general election put paid to that idea, as all recruitment ground to a sudden halt. Austerity set in!
I soon realised I needed something to occupy my days (and give my long-suffering wife, Julie, a break!). I’d spent some time in national police training, so the thought gradually emerged of developing a variety of talks, as most people seem to enjoy “cops and robber” stories.
Little did I know that in order to be able to talk at Women’s Institute meetings I needed to attend and pass an audition, not dissimilar from being on X-Factor.
The day arrived and I attended my first audition in Polegate village hall near Eastbourne. I had assumed (wrongly) there would be just a handful of ladies sitting around a trestle table, we’d have a brief chat, a cup of tea and then I’d go home.
I was amazed to find 130 ladies sitting in rows awaiting my “sample performance”, all with marking sheets to score my efforts! I’d been allocated the slot just before lunch, hence there were very few questions at the end… lunch awaited! Fortunately, I was accepted.
My advice after 4 separate speaker audition days for 4 different counties is to pick a sample which is quick and easy to deliver. At one audition I made the mistake of choosing “The rise of RoboCop”; changes in police uniform and equipment.
I spent the first five minutes of my very brief slot trying to explain that RoboCop had been an American film about a good guy vigilante.
Wind the clock forward eight years and I have been lucky enough to receive many bookings from a wide variety of organisations, from as far afield as Andover, Hampshire across to Dartford in Kent, plus many in south London.
I’ve now developed a total of eight talks (three police related). The first one is called “A policeman’s lot…can be quite an interesting one”.
Another is titled “Gongoozling for beginners” and is a light-hearted “cruise” through some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK, touching on the practicalities of living aboard a canal narrowboat….especially when things don’t go exactly to plan!
What I really enjoy is meeting nice people, in nice places, who actually want to see me…..unlike many times during my 30-year police service.
Venues have been as diverse as a south London Synagogue, a Sussex church and a Unitarian Meeting House, not to mention numerous village halls and the odd pub.
At one such hall I was to be followed two days later by a lady whose talk was entitled “My life as a Playboy Bunny-girl!”……variety is certainly the spice of life in that village.
Feedback often provides me with a smile. Examples have included: “Very well received: one of our members who regularly falls asleep during talks did not do so on this occasion!” and “…short, sharp stories, kept their attention (the first time they have kept so quiet!”)
Finally, people never cease to surprise me when they come up and speak to me at the end of a talk.
From the lady who told me her great grandfather was a mounted policeman at the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the elderly gentleman in Brighton who came and gave me his somewhat forthright views on Margaret Thatcher and her attitude to the miners’ strike in 1984.
I will also never forget the elderly lady at a regional WI meeting who whispered to me “Before you leave dear, will you handcuff me? I have always wondered what it felt like!” I suggested she may have been reading too many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and promptly excused myself.
As I said…..I am still meeting some interesting people.
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