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A little delayed I’m afraid – an unexpected housefull…again!

The day dawned. I felt surprisingly calm. I couldn’t resist prodding myself mentally to see if it was true composure. But sad to say it was still the same old me, unfortunately no overnight transformation, and without too much effort I could still whiz up the old heart beat!

I arrived at the venue early, to familiarise myself with the unfamiliar. The lecture hall wasn’t as daunting as I’d expected; it was modern – low ceilings with gently banked seats in calming green – there was  soft hidden lighting, good acoustics and quiet carpeting. On the podium stood a lectern, solid and comforting, which incorporated every technical aid. Behind the speaker were three impressively large screens for presentations…there was also a fully equipped projector room and human technical assistance!

The organisers, speakers and chairs began to arrive. Introductions were made, last minute hitches ironed out whilst absent key speakers and mislaid presentations were located. The lack of projected red in the spectrum was thankfully corrected after hysteria erupted in the ranks (I had suddenly acquired blue/black cattle, faded blue ragged-robin, grey-blue orchids – amongst other things!). I couldn’t have asked for a better chair either – Jayne was full of encouragement and support, totally understanding of my over-active heart and adrenalin-induced panic…though she wasn’t too enthusiastic about the knockout smell of my herbal tincture! With all the initial organisation organised it was off to lunch in the main conference building where delegates had been arriving all morning.

All too soon (or not soon enough – anticipation was having a detrimental effect) we were back in the lecture hall. Beta-blocker free (I’d decided against them) I sat in the front row counting down the interminable seconds of the three speakers before me…5…4…3…2…1…and I was on!

Notes, pretty-picture presentation loaded (I’m not a powerpoint trained speaker), water…help no water…there it was on the table four feet away! Oh well, too late, I’d have to manage. The lectern, still  solid and comforting, though the array of technical detritus no longer made any sense. I stared out at the audience…paused, breathed and gathered myself. Heart was in overdrive, to me the noise and movement of it were overwhelming – good god, I thought, they’ll never hear me over this!

So I began, mouth dry, stomach in some unreachable place and eyes trying to focus…Interestingly I could see the audience clearly but my notes when I glanced down had turned into a ‘grotesque’ of gesticulating spiders – in fact everything in my near vision was quite incomprehensible! But somehow the words did come out…not that I remember much. And then it was over. I stepped down, numb and blind. The final presentation passed in a haze, I came to as the chair summoned us back for questions. Heart and stomach in place, sight restored, mouth normal and tongue dexterous I arrived on the podium as a functioning human being!

I was so surprised by the follow-up reaction. I was received well. People felt I talked with confidence(?)…and passion. Interestingly another excellent speaker echoed very similar thoughts and messages to mine and it was these more controversial views which turned out to be an important outcome of the conference.

But sadly I can’t say I felt any sense of achievement or triumph. Though  this may change with time.  I am, I know, a perfectionist, but one day when I step down from the podium I will feel elated and fulfilled…though for now it’s back to the drawing board.

Anyone out there want a speaker?

metamorphosis - one day

metamorphosis? one day...

to block my beta, or to let it rip...

to block my beta, or to let it rip...

So my preparation to the run up of the great day commenced…

I had a huge amount of support and encouragement from family, friends and colleagues. An almost embarrassing quantity.

‘Why don’t you record it’ said Pavla ‘Then you can listen to it and memorise it whilst you’re doing farmy things. Or when you’re in the car or tractor, walking the dogs…seeing to the cows and whatnot. I’m sure Olly has the right machine.’

‘That’s a brilliant idea!’ suddenly I felt a little less daunted ‘I mean I can even listen to it whilst painting the windows! That’ll help.  I was fretting a bit. Torn, you know, between preparing and painting!’

You’ll remember that we’re in the throws of redoing all our windows and doors, plus 101 other farm jobs that have been on hold during the summer’s rain. Unfortunate in one way that dry weather and a host of previously arranged commitments coincided, but now being able to listen and learn whilst getting on with other things was an enormous relief. And yes, we had the appropriate equipment.

Other long suffering folk were held captive audience as I sat them down and practiced presenting. Robert and Ben helped with selecting photos and the layout for my powerpoint presentation. All manner of tips and advice came pouring in from every direction; I even found out one of my customers was a ‘presentation-pro’! Berengere, Ben’s wife with numerous scientific presentations under her belt, suggested I might dose myself up with beta blockers…‘Me? Are you serious? I’m a drug free zone!’ but she insisted that the very nervous do find oblivion in them. Well, who was I to resist…

So off I went to the GP. Having explained myself he proceeded to blind me with an impressive army of drugs on offer! I decided to leave off exotics and plump for common-or-garden beta blockers, as recommended. Most probably I wouldn’t take them…but, forearmed is forewarned!

The ‘natural’ method? My herbalist (I’m far happier with tinctures and potions) mixed me up a calming concoction she’d found very helpful for soothing nervous nerves, exploding with valerian and skullcap!

Finally my Alexander teacher gave me a spit and polish just to make absolutely sure I was balanced, grounded, centred, poised…and breathing.

Could anyone be more prepared? I don’t think so…

…and tomorrow – the finale!

I’ve been away – physically and mentally.

Oh backalong, back in the spring sometime, I was approached by the Grazing Advice Partnership (GAP) asking me if I’d be willing to be a speaker at their September conference – Reconnecting Landscapes. I hesitated, as I always do when being asked to give talks (you’ll find out why in a minute), said I’d think about it. The pressure increased; emails, phone calls, persuasion. Peter of the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) tightened the thumb screws. They wanted, actually needed, a speaker who was a farmer, who’d lived and worked the experience …’After all’ said Pete ‘there will be policy makers there…’ he left the sentence hanging.

‘How big is this thing?’ I asked, expecting it would be around fifty, sixty.

‘Oh, two hundred-ish…’

‘Two hundred!’ I echoed ‘Where from?’

‘Britain…and Europe.’

‘I can’t do that’ I exclaimed ‘That’s proper stuff. I’d die of nerves.’

And that’s the rub. I suffer nerves, stage-fright, illogical fear, pure terror, undiluted panic when I give talks. My heart pounds. Adrenalin floods. My stomach somersaults. My mouth dries. My voice chokes. I go ‘blind’, I feel sick…sweat, shake. Want to run.

So why on earth would I ever put myself through it? Crazy? Certainly. Masochistic? Mental? Most probably. But I feel convinced I’ll overcome it (one day) by facing it. The intensity of my terror’s illogical. You see I do a bit of television, radio etc. and though I get a nervous, as do most of us, it’s nothing compared to the enormity of what I feel if I’m asked to speak publicly.

So I foolishly relented. As I’d several months in which to prepare I believed the unfamiliar would become familiar. Maybe this time, by facing my nemesis, I’d rid myself of my phobia.

Knowing what I wanted to say and writing my talk was fairly straightforward. This was, after all, my life experiences spoken from the heart which I hoped would inspire those listening. All I had to do was deliver…

part two tomorrow!

terrified? petrified? Oh yes...

terrified? petrified? Oh yes...

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website,