Manners please!

PUBLISHED: 11:00 23 February 2006 | UPDATED: 14:36 12 May 2010

IS your husband there, we are expecting him at the horticultural society tomorrow evening," said the caller. Normally it would have been me they needed. I had no bookings so I politely ascertained the identity of the person my caller was trying to conta

IS your husband there, we are expecting him at the horticultural society tomorrow evening," said the caller. Normally it would have been me they needed. I had no bookings so I politely ascertained the identity of the person my caller was trying to contact. During those few brief moments my husband had achieved television gardening celebrity status without leaving his armchair. Fortunately, with the Garden Writers' Guild Yearbook to hand I was equipped to give my caller the correct phone number. The good lady had no idea why she had got my number. "You say that you give talks," she said. I do not give talks as such but carefully explained about my presentations timed to last one-and-a-quarter hours. She replied that speakers were only allowed an hour and she would have to get agreement from her committee for me to go over that time. Obviously, the committee she represents is unaware that horticultural society speakers are increasingly hard to find. They will undoubtedly be aware that now visiting speakers have no option but to increase both their fees and travelling expenses it would be to their advantage to generate goodwill among those living locally. Similar anecdotes could be told, oddly enough all relating to local villages and not relating to those situated a distance away. In fact, there are times when one's sense of humour is hard to find, often it hangs on with but a tenuous link. One evening my son took a phone call from a lady wanting to book me 12 months ahead to give her group a presentation about Madeira flora. He advised her that I was on tour in Turkey so she asked if I would contact her on my return to arrange a presentation on Turkey flora as most of the members already knew about Madeira. Nine months before the appointed date I had to send an apologetic cancellation having by then arranged to go on a botanical tour to Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia and Brunei. On my return, I was greeted with the news that a certain newspaper had given details about my visit to the society. I had no option but to call the secretary to explain what had happened. "I am so glad," she said. "I have received so many calls from people who can't come, there would only have been an audience of five". Given those circumstances I would have said: "Right, put the kettle on, forget about my expenses, and let's enjoy ourselves." As it is I will need another reason to visit the village where Jamie Oliver's dad keeps the pub because the gardening club closed a few months later. They are not alone. Geoff Hodge, the editor of the Royal Horticultural Society's website, tells me that a number of gardening clubs and societies are on the brink of folding, many disappeared long ago. They can no longer afford to pay for speakers and the hire of meeting places. Some 12 months ago the East Anglian Speakers' Directory became available to secretaries. The work in bringing it out of its amateurish state revealed that many speakers listed had already passed on, others didn't want to be listed any more, and no new speakers could be persuaded to be included. Quite frankly, this does not surprise me. I refuse to allow my name to be listed anywhere. Some years ago when it was suggested that I should be included in this same list I promptly received a booking. Then to my sheer amazement the caller asked me which country my presentation was about. In fact, my entry almost gave rise to a litigious situation. Since then I have always ascertained my callers source of recommendation. Personal recommendation from one group to another is a sure way to obtaining good speakers. The Royal Horticultural Society speakers list deserves full marks for giving guidelines both on booking speakers and according them the courtesy which they deserve.

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