Hazel McHaffie

Life’s rich variety

Wow! So much has happened since I wrote last week’s blog.

The prize for most terrifying experience? No dispute. That goes to judging a debating competition down in Exeter – Debating Matters, organised by the Institute of Ideas. On one level it was a treat for me to be that far south because I used to live in the Westcountry many moons ago. But the actual judging …? Hmmm.

The motions for that evening were:
1. An unelected head of state should have no place in 21st Century Britain.
2. Scepticism is crucial to debates about climate change.
3. We should not expect our online activities to remain private.

The debaters were sixth year students and it was our job to judge the quality and range of their arguments, as well as their capacity to defend their position and challenge the opposition, to probe their knowledge and offer constructive criticism. But – and it’s a big BUT – none of these subjects is in my area of expertise, which meant doing a stack of research beforehand and then really, really concentrating on the night. Phew! Talk about moving outside my comfort-zone! It was all so fast-moving. No time to pause and compose a well constructed comment, or think up a clever question. Took me hours to unwind afterwards. And the students thought their nerves were wracked! But hey ho, it’s now safely over. And it’s one experience I will not – definitely, absolutely not – be repeating.

The most satisfying event? Visiting my parents’ grave in Plymouth and, with my brother and sister, choosing a memorial for Mother. Not painful, just a rounding off of the events of this last year. Gentle closure. Balm to my soul after the previous day’s debate.

Most frustrating? Definitely the weather. (A curious corollary to that discussion on climate change, huh!) Despite dire forecasts we travelled the length of the country on Friday without incident, only encountering snow twenty minutes from home. But boy, since then, the heavens have emptied the white stuff over our patch in glorious abandon. Beautiful but causing havoc. Impossible to get out of our drive. Events cancelled right, left and centre. Plans wrecked. Just to give you perspective: somewhere under this mound there’s a chariot – hibernating!

(SORRY: photos from the post have been accidentally deleted)

Most unexpected? Having our daughter and family descend because they’d have been marooned in their own home, and where we live they and we are still able to trudge to a bus stop some of the time, even if we can’t go all personal and exclusive with our own locomotion. Oh and yes, quality time with the grandchildren definitely trumps working all day at the computer.

Most heart-warming? Getting feedback on Nigerian dialogue for my next novel from a nonogenarian friend who lived out there as a young man. I’m awed by his ability to engage so brightly and contribute so generously at this age. And he really worked at the task too, nothing slipshod or superficial. He even read aloud some of the dialogue to sound it out, and it was an amazing feeling hearing my work reproduced so authentically. Blessings on you, Norman. (I really do have some fantastic experiences in this job.)

All in all quite a week.

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