I’m 53 years of age and I was a successful inspirational speaker.  You’ll have noticed the past tense in that sentence.  Was.

I became an inspirational speaker − that’s what they called me, I didn’t dream it up − 20 years ago when I was 33.  I was never trained in public speaking.  I just picked it up and people said, ‘Wow! you’ve changed my life’.  I was flabbergasted at first, but I got used to it − even began to believe the hype.  True I’ve always had the gift of the gab.  Got me into loads of trouble at school.  Always in detention for chattering.  Even in detention I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and that landed me in more detentions.  So, I left school at 16 after taking a handful  of basic GCSEs and getting mediocre grades.

Didn’t have a clue what to do so I got a job at the Outward Bound School in Cumbria.  I only got the job because a pal of mine worked there looking after the equipment store.  Initially I was his assistant.  I used to wipe the algae off the canoes and store them on racks and sort out the mountaineering gear.   I’d coil the ropes neatly and hang them on specially designed hooks.  Belays and other stuff too.  I liked to stand back and see everything looking just so.  Helmets and waterproofs all in a row.

Anyway, one day an instructor called Geoff was short staffed and he invited me to accompany him with a group he was taking out.  They’d come for the day, sixth formers from a posh school, to learn  how to abseil.  We went in a minibus to an outcrop of rock about five miles away.  There were some girls in the group.  They screamed when they went over the edge even though I couldn’t see anything really scary about it.

We were just about to pack up for the day when Geoff asked me if I’d like to have a go.  Couldn’t believe my luck.  Going over the edge backwards was great.  I bounced my way down the rock face as if it was made of rubber.  After that Geoff started taking me out on other trips with other groups.  Sometimes we abseiled and sometimes we did rock climbing with ropes and all the gear.  I discovered I had a natural affinity with the rocks, warm in the sun and cold at night.  Sometimes we went out after dark, with lights on our helmets  and luminous strips on our yellow jackets.  It was great.

That’s how it all began, me getting hooked on rocks.

You’ll have heard of the 5 Peaks Challenge, here in the Lake District?  14 miles and five peaks  conquered in one day.  It’s not exactly rock climbing − more rock scrambling − but it’s not called a challenge for nothing.  People mainly do it to raise money for charity.  Anyway, after being one of the official guides for a few years, I woke up one morning and decided to see if I could do the five peaks  on 30 consecutive days and have it recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.  It just came to me as an idea and it stuck.  I checked and no one else had been daft enough to try it.  The Outward Bound School  were great about it.  Sponsored me, let me borrow gear and gave me the month off.  They wanted a share of the  publicity if I succeeded.   Volunteers from the Mountain Rescue acted as my independent witnesses, watching me set off and clocking my return.

So, 20 years ago, starting on the 1st June, I set my alarm for 6am, had bacon and eggs for breakfast, Geoff drove me to Langdale and I set off at 8am.  I took the usual circular route to the summit of Crinkle Crags, then on to Bow Fell, Esk Pike, Great End and, finally, Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain.  A 14 mile up-and-down trip.  Usually took me between seven and eight hours.  The scenery was so familiar that I didn’t waste time admiring the views.  Just cracked on with it.  I took photos at each peak showing the date and time as evidence.  150 photos over the 30 days.

For the first week or so I’d meet a few other walkers and I’d say ‘Hi’, but then word got around that there was this crazy bloke doing the peaks 30 times in 30 days and well-wishers started to join me.  Bit of a nuisance really −  it was much easier to stay focused when I was on my own.  Sometimes people would accompany me all the way and sometimes they’d be waiting for me at various peaks and cheer me on.  I was amazed.

My gammy leg was one of the reasons why I became newsworthy.  It got crushed in a road accident when I was 9.  Not my fault.  I got hit by a motorbike when I was crossing the road outside my house.  He came round the bend too fast and I finished up being flung against a stone wall.  I was in hospital for three months while they tried to fix my leg but I lost some muscle and it never grew properly after that.  Left me with quite a limp.

On my 30th walk quite a crowd accompanied me and the local press turned out to welcome me over the finishing line.  There were flags and things.  The Outward Bound School feted me and invited me to give talks to groups about my adventure.  It was weird to see people listening intently to my story.  Some would even take notes.  I couldn’t imagine what I’d said that was noteworthy.  I just used to tell them how I’d woken up one day and decided to do it and that, once I’d set my mind on it, nothing could stop me.  Funny thing was people seemed to think it was remarkable.

After a while I started getting invitations from local Rotary Clubs and even the Women’s Institute.  Word got around and invitations came from further afield.  That’s how I got to be an inspirational speaker.  An agency signed me up and sent me all round the world speaking to sales teams and at conferences for business managers for a fat fee.  I got to stay in posh hotels in places like Monte Carlo, Houston, Vancouver and Sydney, all expenses paid.  Amazing!   People kept telling me I was an inspiration and women, well, they threw themselves at me.  But we won’t go there.

I used to trot out some corny messages but people lapped them up.   Things like, ‘New day, new opportunities’,  ‘Winners never quit’, ‘Aim high to hit high’. ‘It’s your journey, no one can do it for you’, ‘Ambition is the road to success but persistence is what gets you there’.   Short, punchy stuff delivered with apparent conviction.  Can you believe people fell for stuff like that?  No?  Nor did I, but they did.

Then, after 20 years speaking on the circuit, without any warning, I was stuck dumb.  Mid sentence.  No more words.  Couldn’t even whisper.  Nothing.  At first people thought I was kidding.  I was flown home for tests.  Saw lots of specialists.  They thought I must have had some sort of stroke but nothing showed up on brain scans.

Eventually I was sent to a speech therapist.  She told me she’d read of other cases where people suddenly ran out of words.  The condition had a fancy Latin name − glossarium interruptum, or something like that.  She said the theory was that everyone was born with an undisclosed word quota and that I’d used mine up.  Apparently people who talk a lot are at risk − stand-up comedians, teachers and politicians for example.

I’m keeping this brief because I’ve been warned there might also be a quota for written words, not just spoken ones.  I really hope that’s not …….




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