Tag: Exeter University

A dog’s journey!

A guest post from a dear friend!

Many years ago I found myself teaching at a unit attached to Exeter University. I was teaching sales and marketing. I can’t remember clearly the events that produced the meeting between myself and Chris Snuggs. But I recall the outcome.

Chris was the director of studies at a French institute named ISUGA. Let me borrow from their website:

The ISUGA Europe-Asia International BBA Bachelor’s degree is a 4-year cursus following the Baccalaureate or High School diploma which combines studying International Business and Marketing with learning an Asian or English language and comprising university exchange stays, as well as internships in French and International businesses.

ISUGA is located in Quimper, Western Brittany relatively close to Devon in England where I was living.

In Chris’ words: “It must have been through them that we got your name when we needed someone to teach Selling. Now I come to think of it, we HAD someone lined up for a whole week and he CANCELLED on us, so you were a last-minute replacement.”

For quite a few years I went across to Quimper to teach for Chris. Mainly by ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff. During the summer months I flew to Quimper from Exeter in our group-owned TB20. (The picture below is of the type only not our aircraft.)

A Socata TB20

Since that day we have remained in reasonable contact and I regard Chris as good friend.

A few days ago Chris published on his blog his account of his journey from Quimper back to Ramsgate, in east Kent. It was hilarious and I asked Chris if I could publish it and share with everyone.

Chris not only said yes but insisted on improving it (his words) including expanding it to what it is below.

So with no further ado, here is Chris’ post.

ooOOoo

“A DOG’s Travel Across Northern France” … as in “Doddering Old Git”

I am officially a “Senior Citizen”, but as such prefer much of what passes for “The Good Old Days” when in this case we were called “Old Age Pensioners” – MUCH less PC and wokeish AND more realistic – but DOGS sounds much better (and more informative) than OAPs.

A simple trip to Blighty to see the family for XMAS was not supposed to be a saga, but it turned out to be one: 

Like ET, I was going home, though not quite as far – though it probably seemed like it.

I got about 3 hours sleep max Thursday night/Friday morning; worried about oversleeping even though I had THREE electronic wake-up devices.

I got up at 04:30 to finalize packing and clean up (the worst of) my mess.

I went out into the street in front of the house at 06:45 to await the taxi – it was raining, albeit not heavily.

The taxi was 5 minutes late, but the driver didn’t apologize. (I was going to say “woman driver” but I believe that sex differentiation is no longer allowed.)

I tried to help her (it, hir, shim?) load my heavy suitcase into *** boot (car, not footwear).

I lightly touched the car with the suitcase, and shim said: “Mind my car. Your suitcase is too heavy.”

I nearly said: “So are you, but it’s probably your hormones or your genes.” but decided that discretion was the better part of insult as I had to catch a train ……

We got to the station in plenty of time, only for me then to find that the train was due to go from platform C (usually it’s A as you leave the entrance hall).

I then found out/remembered that there is no lift at Quimper station. “This is not going to be my day,” I thought …

As I approached the stairs down to the access tunnel, I pretended to be a Doddery Old Git on the point of collapse (no comments please) and a nice young man helped me with the case.

Same procedure with a different bloke to go up to platform C. I actually tried this ploy with a pretty young lady first, but just got a funny look ….

Eventually got onto the right and very crowded train; my “This is not a gasmask” COVID mask was very reassuring as the virus probably had a field day circulating the carriage. I got some more funny looks, but two people asked me where I got my mask, so I am thinking of merchandising them ….

Got to Paris 4 hours later – showed a railway worker my little map where the taxi was supposed to be waiting and he pointed me in direction X saying authoritatively: “Tout au bout.” (“right at the end” for those who left school at 14).

Seemed a bit iffy to me (I vaguely remembered having gone somewhere else the last time I had done the journey, but couldn’t remember where. Does that happen to you?), but I followed his directions in the obviously-idiotic belief that someone actually working in a place would know where the taxis would be.

Of course, there was no sign of a taxi area at the distant far end of the HUGE Montparnasse Station, so I asked another railway bod.

He pointed in the 180° opposite direction and said the same as the first bloke, so I had to retrace my steps and go another 200 metres past where I had started to one of the no doubt multiple exits.

On exiting I was surrounded by some Middle Eastern gentlemen (without beards as it happens) who were desperate to take me somewhere.

I told them I had booked a taxi already and they suddenly lost interest.

I then got a call on my posh new mobile, but as with every other mobile I have ever owned it is specifically designed so that one cannot easily answer a call – first there is always some other leftover screen on the thing which by the time you have got rid of the caller has given up, and second you have to SWIPE to even see a green button which you then press – and I don’t know who invented SWIPE but hanging, drawing and quartering while being burned alive in oil over a period of several hours would be a suitable punishment.

This was all way beyond me, so I missed the call.

Miraculously, however, I did manage to call back and it was in fact the driver.

After two or three calls in each direction we managed to find each other physically as well as phonally.

We set off for La Gare du Nord, which should be about 15 minutes max by road – but it took us an hour and a quarter … (This was Paris in the rain on Friday at lunchtime – but I did learn a few new French swearwords from the driver.)

Fortunately, I had plenty of time between trains and so managed to find and embark on my TER to Calais.

This was an uneventful trip except that I was opposite a young mother with an inquisitive baby who kept looking at me for some reason (the baby not the woman ….).

I thought about playing with the baby but did not want to be arrested as a paedophile. I did plonk a small orange on the little table between us thinking she might want to play with it, but I got a funny look from her mother …. so I picked it up (the orange not the baby) and ate it – getting more funny looks. Strange … I get that all the time.

There was no internet on the TER so I tried to doze, but dozing with a high-decibel baby one metre away is a skill I have not yet mastered – and probably never will.

Arrived at Calais station – it took me 10 minutes to find the lift to get to the exit: in fact, one has to be led across an actual line by a railway bod and then take the lift – which is conveniently hidden.

But once outside the station I got a taxi right away. (a rare plus chalked up!)

I was dropped at the port outside a little hut marked “Billets”: (“tickets” for the linguistically-challenged).

This was weird – there used to be a big hall full of foot-passengers, but it has all changed – there IS a big hall, but it is empty except for two WWI biplanes. “Perhaps they want to fly us over?” I thought.

Went into the ticket office to be told my boat was cancelled (no explanation was offered) and they would try to get me on the next one. I never did understand why they would “try” (there was hardly anyone else there), but it seems they had to wait for a phone call.

It was a very small cabin with four guichets (Would you like a French dictionary for XMAS?) and three simple chairs, on one of which – after having my particulars scrutinized and recorded – I was invited to sit – which I did, not sure whether I should show appreciation or keep going with the scowl I could feel coming on ….

Behind the desks several women came and went, but spent all the time yacking to one another about women stuff while three of us sat waiting in stony and in my case exhausted silence (it was by now 18:00 and I had been up since 04:30).

I eventually got up and complained, something that comes naturally to we DOGs. I said I did not understand the delay, that I needed a coffee and a toilet break and that the least they could do was install some beds in their little office for those in my situation (and condition) who had to wait overnight for information about getting on a replacement ferry. I wanted to add a question about whether they had been trained in defibrillation techniques but by then I had run out of breath.

The charming young lady smiled and said they had none of the things that might alleviate my stress (adding the word “understandable” would have been nice) but that the large hall opposite might be open, and if not she could lend me a key to open it and visit the convenience.

I couldn’t be bothered to try to work out why she wouldn’t know whether the hall was open or not and that what I in fact most urgently needed was to get out of there without bothering with keys I would probably lose – which I did.

I then walked round the large hall three or four times admiring the WWI planes and wondering if the Red Baron had ever flown one of them. The fresh air and exercise refill renewed the oxygen supply to my needy brain.

I eventually staggered back to the ticket office and sat down on my hard chair again. I was tempted to feign a loud snore but as with the taxi driver in the morning decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

15 minutes later a phone call came and I was summoned to the guichet and given my ticket.

“Great,” I thought. “At last we can get outta here.”

THEN she told us that in 40 minutes someone would come to drive us to the boat.

I was fast losing the will to live, but thought that another dose of circling the large airplane hall might at least get my blood circulating again.

I told her where I was going and mentioned the hall and the planes (to be fair she did laugh at my joke about flying us across the Channel), but said: “That’s all run by the Chamber of Commerce.”, and of course we all know that no lunacy is beyond THAT organization.

I left after asking if she could send out a rescue party if I did not return – and she smiled again …. Smiles don’t of course achieve anything practical but they do at least make the pain somewhat more tolerable. 

I came back half an hour later, having admired the bi-planes once again and wondered whether the Red Baron had ever flown one – and indeed a lady driver soon turned up as predicted to drive us to the boat. (another rare plus chalked up …)

We had to go up and down two or three kerbs (nowhere lowered for people to wheel their too-heavy suitcases) and eventually got onto a bus.

Had to go up a multiply-zig-zagged ramp to get onto the boat, but I played the Doddery Old Git card again and someone helped with my case.

I had thought of taking my walking-stick on this trip to boost the DOG sympathy factor, but could not work out how I could possibly carry it simultaneously with the rest of my baggage.

I asked a boatbod what time we would be leaving and then arrive in Dover, and he said: “in 15 minutes and 20:00.”

40 minutes later we still had not left, so I asked someone else when we would be leaving and was told in 15 minutes.

We actually left 30 minutes later, and I decided that being 100% wrong in a prediction was not actually that bad as these things go.

When I asked yet anOTHER bod WHY there had been another delay he just rolled his eyes and said something about the Captain which I didn’t understand – but was past caring. 

Ten minutes later I asked the next available bod what time we would arrive in Dover and was told 20:30.

This was well past the time my taxi was booked, so I called to inform Eddy, the driver.

Fortunately, making calls on mobiles is easier than receiving them, so that was OK.

On the boat I got talking to a foot-passenger couple (there were only EIGHT of us!).

They were very nice and I gave them Taxi Supremo Andy’s phone number as they had nothing arranged for their arrival.

When we eventually got to Dover, there were no more checks (even though they made us walk through a maze of corridors in the totally empty border-control and customs instead of going straight to the taxi area – maybe they were filming us secretly?) and we eventually got to where I hoped to find Eddy the Driver.

However, there are huge roadworks going on just inside the port entrance and all the usual roads are blocked off and/or rerouted.

There was of course no sign of Eddy – OR any other taxis. Foot-passengers have a VERY low priority …..

Grateful for my phone once again, I called Eddy who said he was ALREADY in the port but had got lost.

Taxi-drivers getting lost is a bit ominous, so I assumed he was even more of a DOG than I am. Still, we DOGs have to stick together …..

I told him where we were ….. right near the entrance just past the roundabout at the bottom of the long clifftop descent to the port. For those who know Dover this is the easiest part of the entire port (or indeed of England) to find …..

Three exchanged calls later we finally met up physically as well as phonally – which was a reminder of Paris. In future, I am going to fix a GPS signal to myself and ensure my driver has military-standard tracking equipment. Perhaps Nathalie can arrange that?

Eddy was as suspected a bit of a DOG – but like me, very nice …… I asked if he could drop off my friends from the boat at Dover railway station before taking me back to Ramsgate – which he agreed to.

So we took them up the road to the station, where they unloaded their stuff from the boot.

I did think about getting out to check they didn’t take any of my four bits of luggage, but I was very tired and also thought that it would be impossible to confuse the grotty things I was carrying with any of their posh stuff from Parisian shops.

They gave Eddy an extra £8 for the slight detour. As I said they were very nice even if the lady’s perception and memory banks were highly undeveloped.

We then at last set off for Ramsgate, but Eddy took a wrong turn and we ended up driving towards Canterbury.

It takes a really advanced stage of dodderation to get lost driving from Dover to Ramsgate, so I will be contacting “The Guinness Book of Records”.

I decided against advising Eddy to do a U-turn in the pitch dark, and after driving four miles up a dual-carriageway we eventually got to a roundabout, retraced our wheels and made our way back to Dover.

Miraculously finding the right road to Ramsgate this time, we set off on the last lap. By now I was desperately hanging onto life by a thread.

Halfway to Ramsgate Eddy got a call from Taxiboss Andy’s Missus:

“The couple you dropped off at the station just rang; it seems they have got a package belonging to one of the other passengers.” ME! NO, I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP …..

…. but they were nice people and apparently said they would wait at the station for us to come and pick up the bag.

I tried to keep calm, but remembered Einstein’s famous dictum. (SEE BELOW)

We stopped to check the boot and I saw that they had taken a plastic bag with two boxes of wine for my sister Maggie and another box of boiled eggs and fishsticks essential for my diet.

I asked Eddy if he minded going back, and he agreed to instantly – even without being promised any more dosh.

So back we went to the station, picked up the bag and Eddy collected another £10 for his trouble. (As I said, nice people …)

Off we set for Ramsgate again, and this time Eddy did not get lost ……. even we DOGs are capable of learning.

I eventually got to Ramsgate around 22:30 instead of the anticipated 20:00 – and of course I felt obliged to give Eddy a generous tip even though he DID get lost twice. Actually, everything in France had gone pretty smoothly as planned; it only went really tits-up when we got to Dover. I of course blame BREXIT ……

How was your day?

PS No insult to real dogs is intended in this account. As we know, if the world were ruled by dogs we would all be safer and happier, though the absence of tv and the internet would be a shame.

PPS I was fortunate to be able to employ Paul for brief periods over a number of years to teach business students about Selling and Marketing during my time as Director of Studies of a business school in France. His teaching was highly impressive, but even more so his habit of flying his own plane to Quimper. In this and many other ways he was and remains unique. As I told the students: “Listen to Paul’s advice and one day you will fly your own plane.”

ooOOoo

Marvellous.

Thank you, Chris!

The book! Chapter Eight.

Half-way mark passed.

I’m preparing this post the afternoon of Sunday; yesterday in other words.

In terms of progress, I’m over 29,000 words. Thus well and truly beyond the half-way mark.  However, more and more as the days pass and the words flow on to the screen, I having severe doubts about the literary quality of my writing.  My view is that it is far too reportorial in style.  Those who follow comments will have seen my comment last Friday in reply to Sue Dreamwalker.

This is what Sue wrote:

Loved your description here Paul of the interaction between Pharaoh and Betsy, I could almost see them in the paddock, hind leg lifted Lol Pee and all…

How are you enjoying your writing challenge? You seem to be well on track so far…
I hope you are enjoying your weekend
Sue

This was my reply:

Dearest Sue,

Yes, past the half-way point. 25,690 words when I stopped yesterday. In terms of enjoying it, immensely so. Mind you, it’s so auto-biographical to be less of a novel than more a personal ‘dump’!

The weakness that is becoming apparent is that without me outlining a clear plot line before I started writing then two things are happening.

The first is that I haven’t yet really fleshed out the main characters: Philip; Maggie; (Pharaoh!); and, to come, Susannah Middleton.

The second is that I get side-tracked into detailed explanations of people and incidents along the way that don’t really support the ‘story’.

But I have faith that the NaNoWriMo organisation will offer a lead to all the tyro writers who, having finished a very rough draft of their novel, now don’t have a clue as to what to do next!

Anyway, as they say in the old country, it’s keeping me off the streets.

Big hugs from Oregon.

Paul

Anyway, onwards and upwards.  Here’s Chapter Eight, warts and all!

oooOOOooo

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Eight

Over the next two Saturdays Philip returned with Pharaoh and, just as Angela had predicted, Betsy behaved as a normal and self-confident dog.

Thus by the end of March there were two wonderful outcomes.  Pharaoh was clearly the teaching dog that Angela had seen in him and Pharaoh’s first customer, so to speak, Betsy, had overcome her fears, the cause of her antagonistic attitude towards strange dogs.  There was a bonus as well.  Gordon and Angela had a bit of a private chit-chat along the way and Gordon very happily changed his mind about Betsy becoming a participant at Plymouth’s grey-hound racing track.

The weeks settled into a gentle pattern and before Maggie and Philip had really taken it onboard, Pharaoh celebrated his first birthday on June 3rd, 2004.  He seemed such a permanent part of their lives.  In many ways it felt as though Pharaoh had become a member of a new family.  That this strong, intelligent and sensitive dog had expanded the relationship of two persons, husband and wife, into a family of three with more love and affection than ever before.

The Saturdays over with Angela clearly provided Pharaoh with what in human terms would be described as purpose.  It didn’t take Philip many trips with Pharaoh for him to see something appearing in his dog that just couldn’t be defined in human words.  Angela grew more and more delighted with the way that Pharaoh resolved some quite tricky teaching demands with dogs that had arrived with significant social weaknesses.  Frequently in a single session but just sometimes over a couple of meetings between Pharaoh and the ‘client’.

Before Philip could believe it his sixtieth birthday arrived, was celebrated with enthusiasm in The Church House Inn, passed by and less than eight weeks later 2004 slid into 2005.

Life was a very settled affair.  There was sufficient income from his business mentoring to keep things ticking along, he was much fitter from the exercise of walking Pharaoh, and Maggie and he seemed to be in a very good space together.  She was a fair few years younger than Philip, eighteen to be exact. At times, Philip had longed for a deeper connection between them but gradually came to the conclusion that their difference in ages and backgrounds was the underlying reason for what Philip felt was missing, and that he should move on and just be thankful for what was a good and harmonious relationship.

Autumn of 2005 brought along a lovely event.  Philip had been asked to present at a conference being held at Exeter University.  It was an all-day affair with a number of outside speakers, the purpose of which was to give graduates, on the verge of heading off to the big outside world, an awareness of some of the skills and tools their professional lives might require. Philip’s chosen subject was marketing for the entrepreneur, a topic he was very comfortable with, and the forty-minute session, the second one in the afternoon, had seemed to have gone well. That is, if the bundle of intelligent questions coming from the audience was any measure.  The UK economy was enjoying strong growth along with many other Western countries.  In fact, there were many who felt that this period of economic growth, especially in regard to ever-higher house prices, had an over-heated feel to it.  But the good news was that the economy seemed to be motivating many young people to have a go at starting their own business.

As Philip returned to the table where the speakers were sitting he passed the next speaker walking out towards the podium.  He reflected on the speed at which we form impressions of another person.  For in the two or three seconds it took for each to pass the other, he found the smile offered to him coming from an open and engaging face.

His name was Jonathan Atkins and the title of his talk was ‘Being the best you can.’ A simple but riveting theme, Philip noted.

Jonathan introduced himself and went on to say,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you stand on the threshold of your life’s journey.  Neither you nor anyone else has the slightest chance of predicting that when you get to my age or more, heaven forbid, and look back over your forty or more years, what vista of your life you will see. But one thing is sure beyond anything.”

There was a slight pause and then Jonathan illuminated his first slide. It read plainly and clearly: Be The Best You Can Be.

Philip hung on to Jonathan’s words and underlying messages for every single minute of the forty-minute presentation.  The critical importance of the relationships that all working people, but especially professional people, make and maintain with all those within their workplaces, and beyond the workplace.  Why, so often, professional people struggle with their relationships in the workplace.  The importance of mindfulness, rapport, holding boundaries, and more.  All of it within a framework of integrity. Philip more than hung on to Jonathan’s every word.  There was something else, something that was beyond his consciousness, something that was stirring him so deeply that it was beyond his reach.

At the end of Jonathan’s presentation, there was a huge plethora of questions from what had obviously been an engaged audience. By the time he stepped down and returned to the speakers’ table  it was time for the afternoon tea-break.  Speakers and audience alike flowed into the adjoining large room where a number of tables, covered in white cotton tablecloths, revealed cups of hot tea and plates of biscuits.

Philip picked a steaming cup, anticipating the pleasure of the hot tea, and moved away from the table area to a broad window looking out over the university buildings and beyond them Exeter’s commercial skyline. He became aware of another person standing close, turned his head and saw that it was Jonathan Atkins.

“Jonathan, I have to say that I found your talk fascinating.” Philip continued, almost without pause, “In fact, using the word fascinating is me opening mouth before engaging brain.”

Philip paused before continuing, noticing a slight smile on Jonathan’s  face.

“What I should have said is that your talk opened doors to places in my mind that I sort of knew were there but could never properly access, let alone describe.  As you can see for someone who should really have the gift of the gab, I’m not immune to grabbing a verbal idea a tad too quickly.”

“Philip, thank you for that generous compliment.” Jonathan seemed to be thinking a little before continuing, “Your presentation was valuable to me as well.  In fact, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with you sometime over the next couple of weeks; wondering if you could offer me some advice relevant to my own business situation, something that I have to decide upon over the coming months?”

“Jonathan, of course, that would be wonderful.  Would love to meet up on any basis.  Hang on a moment while I pull out a card.”

Philip took his black leather wallet that he kept in his rear trouser pocket, unfolded it and drew out a white business card.  He passed it across to Jonathan’s outstretched hand.

“Ah, I see you are not that far from me,” said Jonathan. “We are over at Torquay; can’t be more than ten miles from Harberton.  Let me give you a call sometime over the next week.”

“Look forward to hearing from you. Oh, it looks as though we are all being called back into the room for the last sessions.  As I said, give me a call whenever you want, it’s a home-office set-up and I’m frequently there. We can arrange a time to meet.”

With that, the pair of them returned their empty cups to a nearby table and made their way back to the main auditorium and thence to the speakers’ table.

It was a late afternoon in October, well on into the month, as Philip and Pharaoh were settling themselves back home after a blustery afternoon’s walk over at the woods, when he heard his office phone ringing. He grabbed it just before it went across to voicemail.

“Hi, Philip, it’s Jonathan, how are you?”

“Jonathan, fine thanks, and how are you?” Philip had almost forgotten leaving his card with him.

“Good, and please accept my apologies for not calling you sooner.  Do you remember when we met up at that Exeter Uni event, I wondered about seeing you and you gave me your card?”

“Of course,” came Philip’s reply.

“Well, is that offer still open?”

“Yes, of course,” Philip then adding, “When would you like to meet up, want me to come to your place or meet somewhere neutral, as it were?”

“Well if that was OK with you, you coming over to the house in Torquay would be very helpful.”

They kicked around a few dates and settled on the 15th November, a Tuesday Philip saw as he looked at his wall calendar.

“What time would suit you, Jonathan?”

“Well if 9:30 wasn’t too early for you, that would be perfect.  I know that Helen, my wife, has to go out around then for most of the morning, so it would let me explain what’s in my mind without feeling I should be giving Helen a hand.  I’m so rarely at home during the day just now.”

Jonathan then read his address out to Philip over the phone, that he in turn read back as a double-check, then declined Jonathan’s instructions as to how to get there. Philip knew pretty well where the house was in Torquay, and that was that.

He said to Jonathan, “See you in a little under four weeks,” and they closed the call.

So, as they inevitably do, the days and weeks soon passed and on that Tuesday morning in November, with the tail end of an Atlantic weather low chasing low clouds away from tops of Devon hills, Philip drove across to Jonathan and Helen’s house near Preston, just a short distance along the coast road out of Torquay.

In a million years, he couldn’t have predicted, not even dreamt, what consequences would flow from the meeting.

1,725 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover