If you followed this blog last year while I was in Edinburgh, prepare for more of the same. What is it about exotic travel and the urge to blog?

The reason for this Postcard From Edinburgh (part two) is that tomorrow my dad and I head to the Athens of the North, so-called because of the easy availability of kebabs and the ancient ruins that can be spotted propping up the bars.

Our trip coincided with an invitation to perform at Berwick with Sir Reginald Tweedy-Duffer, AKA Will Richards, who was good enough to score me a couple of other gigs, one at The Beehive, and another at The Stand. So it was a holiday with a little bit of work thrown in. I duly booked the trains and hotel. Non-flexible, of course, in order to get the best deal, but we weren’t going to change our plans, were we?

This is the story of how we changed our plans.

I am a member of Early Bird Speakers, part of Toastmasters International, meeting every Thursday at 7am, a time of day I hadn’t previously been aware of. The members are an eclectic group of fascinating people from all walks of life, transforming one another with their enthusiasm and support, and I have been the direct beneficiary of this. Read on…

Every year they hold a speaking contest, starting at club level and rising through the area, division and district. Somewhat against my expectations, I’ve been winning. And I didn’t check (because I didn’t think it would matter) the date of the UK and Ireland final, which is this year to be held in Torquay a couple of days after dad and I arrive in Edinburgh. Whoops. Even as I held the trophy aloft, I knew there would be some explaining to do.

I called my mum. I play her as Phyllis Diller, though she’s more like a gently-caffeinated Elizabeth Taylor without the ex-husbands. She expressed less surprise at my victory than I did, possibly because she has long accepted that when a Hawkins builds a ship, an iceberg is in the process of detaching itself from Greenland and heading south on a slow but determined collision course. ‘How did you win?’ she asked, with less than flattering emphasis on the ‘you’.
‘I’ve asked myself the same question.’
‘What do you talk about?’
‘Some wise words of advice from my father.’
‘Ha!’
(At this point I can hear my father in the background, singing the theme tune to The Antiques Roadshow.)
‘Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day,’ said my mum.
‘Well I had to pad it out a bit.’

We looked at the options, and there was only one solution: cancel two of the Edinburgh gigs (sorry Sir Reginald, sorry Beehive), and fly from Edinburgh to Exeter for the contest. So to the bewildering array of train tickets (eleven bits of card to take two people to Edinburgh and back) I am adding aeroplane tickets, a car hire voucher and a hotel reservation. I fly out on Friday at 6.50am (as well as turning me into a good speaker, Early Birds has also prepared me for this), stop over in Manchester, arrive in Exeter, and have the semi-finals in the afternoon. The final is on Saturday and I fly back to Edinburgh on Sunday afternoon to do my Stand gig in the evening. There is a dim feeling that the winning streak will shudder to a halt on Friday, as I can quite imagine kicking my heels on the English Riviera, basking in disaster and with nothing to do except wait a lonely day and a half for the ruinously expensive flight back to Scotland.

Alternatively, I might win: a thought that makes me feel shaky and nervous. I’m used to doing badly. Small scale failure is my forte. But of course, I am no longer representing myself: I am representing my club, from the brilliant mentorship of Tazud Miah and Al Cowie to the members who’ve come to competitions to support me, and the other speakers at club events who have made me realise I’ve got to raise my game to be in with a chance.

So watch this space: the next few days will be …interesting.

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How short do I look in this?

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