Next week I’m going to London for three separate and very different, but oddly related, launches. They all involve people I have close connections with and each in its own way brings with it the excitement of an impending birth.
Meanwhile, between now and then, Sarah and I are running a The Stories We Tell weekend. That also carries the promise of new beginnings as people make inner connections that may subtly alter their life’s trajectory. Newness and energy is in the air. It’s there too in the clematis and lilac now blooming in the garden, and in that burstingly vibrant young green of the woodland all around us at this time of year. And so to London…
On Monday it’s the launch of John Simmons’s novel Leaves, a mere 45 years after its conception. I wrote about it last week. That will be a cheerful and probably crowded affair. John is held in affectionate regard by a large number of people, many of whom are either members of 26, the writers’ collective which he helped found 10 years ago, or former Dark Angels students, or both. There will be a lot of friends there with good cause to celebrate and a lot to say to one another.
Then, on Tuesday, in Slough, we present Simple Words to its intended audience. This is the pilot for an online training programme for doctors and clinical staff which invites them to rethink the conversations they have with their patients. We – that is Dark Angels – have been involved in its development with a consultancy called Experience Led Care, run by Georgina Craig and Alison Manson, two formidably energetic, well connected and persuasive NHS specialists.
The presentation to GPs, practice staff and patients in Slough is the culmination of many months’ work: first to understand, through focus groups with doctors and patients, what can go wrong during the 10 minutes they spend with each other; then to identify the seven most common ‘challenging conversations’ that take place during consultation, of which, unsurprisingly, delivering life-changing news and explaining medical jargon are two of the most prominent; and finally to design an online training programme that doctors and practice staff can, and will want to, fit into their desperately crowded schedules. The programme is rooted in the notion that strong, empathetic human connections must be the starting point for any effective conversation; and that these will lead to better outcomes (a word I can no longer avoid using) in many aspects of health care, not least that of people taking more responsibility for managing their own conditions.
There is in fact a link between Monday’s event, this one in Slough, and the one that follows it on Thursday. Four years ago BBC Radio 4’s Peter Day made a programme about Dark Angels for his In Business series. It was as a result of hearing that programme that Georgina Craig contacted us, back in 2011, and Simple Words is the fruit of that connection. The way Peter Day came to hear about us and make the programme in the first place is that my daughter Ellie is his daughter Anna’s business partner, and it is their book The Flower Appreciation Society: An A-Z Of All Things Floral, that is being published by Little Brown on Thursday.
Permit me a moment of paternal pride when I explain that from arranging the flowers for the London pub where they both worked, five years ago, The Flower Appreciation Society today include Harvey Nichols, Top Shop, ASOS, Toast and Anthropologie among their clients. They have a studio in Hackney, from where they plan weddings, parties and events – such as, recently, turning the roof of Harvey Nichols into an Italian garden for Peroni, the Italian beer. They describe themselves as ‘not your average florists’ and their approach has always been ultra-natural, from the seasonal British flowers they use wherever possible, to the jam jars, china swans and other eccentric receptacles in which they place the flowers. The Flower Appreciation Society is the antithesis of the high street florist with its garish bouquets of cellophane-wrapped, imported blooms, and the subtlety and delicacy of their arrangements is a marvel (check them out on Facebook here).
I know that writing and illustrating the book (Anna Day is an illustrator by training), while also running a business, has been an immense labour for them. On Thursday evening – in a community garden in Hackney, where else? – I’ll be cheering them to the treetops.