I have just got in from my second woodland charity talk in six days. It is quite efficient having them bunched together, as I go through the presentation before the first one to remind myself what I'm supposed to be talking about for which slide, and can then remember it for the second without any more preparation. This time round I even made my samples of twigs of native trees last for both meetings, as they didn't have any leaves to wilt.
The first was to a newly formed wildlife group in the Dengie peninsula. Dengie is a long-winded place to get to from north Essex, due to Essex having the longest coastline of any county in the UK (allegedly. Cornwall is a contender, so it depends on who you ask). You have to cross the river Blackwater, and the lowest bridging point is Maldon. By the time I got to my destination, all of an hour and half after leaving home, I could see the houses of West Mersea with the naked eye, which are only a hop, skip and jump from Colchester.
It was only the wildlife group's second meeting. The last one was cancelled due to snow, and I could see why the organizer had contacted me ten days before the scheduled date to check I was still able to come, and again the day before to reassure himself that I had not forgotten. Cancelling two months on the trot could have killed the nascent club stone dead before it had fairly got going. As it is there was a decent turnout, certainly as many as you could have fitted into the bijou church annexe where we were meeting. They charged four pounds a head on the door to get in, and I realized afterwards that four pounds was probably my personal record. Mostly I speak at clubs where meetings are free to members, or a pound at most.
They were very nice, friendly people, and made an exceptionally generous donation to the charity, especially considering that as a new club they ought to be building up some financial reserves. In the chat before the talk the organizer told me about the sad plight of the curlew, which is threatened. They are failing to breed successfully for some reason. I was truly saddened. The cry of curlews over the marshes has to be one of the most magical sounds there is.
The Dengie peninsula is an interesting place, with one of Britain's oldest chapels, and I'd originally been hoping to get a talk date for later in the year, when it would have been warmer and I could have gone earlier in the afternoon and explored. One of the Systems Administrator's tutors at Oxford was a world expert on the field patterns of Dengie. Mad Eric, as he was fondly known. The SA remembers seeing the maps strewn across Mad Eric's desk, but at the time had never heard of it and didn't pay more than cursory attention. If only we had known.
Tonight's talk was on my doorstep, although I managed to be massively early after allowing for non-existent rush hour traffic approaching Clacton, and the risk of getting caught for ages at the level crossing. It was to a local history group. I warned the chairman when he rang up last year that the talk was not just historical, but he said that didn't matter. After some minutes of chat on the phone we got on to dates, and I discovered that they met on the first Tuesday of the month which clashed with my garden club, but it seemed too mean to suddenly back-pedal and say that I couldn't talk to them after all.
They had a sound system which the chairman politely but firmly requested that I use, as some of the members were hard of hearing, so I used it. Most village hall and club sound systems are dire. This one had a head-mounted microphone, so at least I didn't have to devote half my attention to holding a cranky hand mic the correct distance from my mouth for the whole talk. I asked them at the start if it sounded OK or was buzzing, and adjusted the position of the mic until they said it was OK, but in the interval the man in charge of it came up to say that some people found it was buzzing too much, though it wasn't my fault, it was that the village hall speakers were the wrong sort. I did the second half without, and nobody shouted that they couldn't hear. If people can't hear it would be much better if they would say so at the time, instead of simmering in resentful silence. At the end one person who had been right at the back told me she could hear perfectly in both halves, but I thought that perhaps whether people had problems depended on the nature of their hearing loss. Actually, if they know they do have hearing loss I wish they would not fail to put their hearing aids in and then sit at the back when there are plenty of seats at the front.
The chairman in his vote of thanks told me that he had enjoyed it much more than he was expecting, and then came and explained afterwards that that had not come out right. He meant that he had not known exactly what a talk on trees would be about, and was not sure that he would be interested. Everybody else who said anything said they had liked it, and the man who won the cash raffle prize donated it to the charity, so on balance it seemed to be a success, apart from the cross deaf person at the back who left at half time.
The talk was in Jaywick. As a matter of course I don't generally name places, but the only things that most people know about Jaywick are that it was badly flooded in 1953 and is now the most deprived community in the UK on many measures of deprivation. I should like to state for the record that it has a thriving local history society.