|Photo courtesy of © Kevin Lelland at JMT.|
Now I haven’t done any major talks for a long time, several years in fact, so whilst I was honoured to have been asked, especially when many other eminent speakers had gone before me including mountaineer Simon Yates and Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club, I was in equal measure filled with trepidation. Stuart asked me to think about it and I tried to find 'get-out' support from friends and family but they all said how fantastic it was to have been asked and that I would be amazing etc, not the answers I had hoped for. Jan said, before I could get a word in, how proud she was of me! My close friend Ken Latham, mountaineer, countryside manager, mountain rescue volunteer, rock climber and keen amateur photographer just said “Nice one matey, you’ll be fookin ace!” He volunteered to check out the audiovisual set up for me at the Galeri as I was about to head abroad. He came back to me with “Mate, it’s the D*gs Boll***s, your stuff looks fookin incredible on their 2K projector” – so that was it really, no more excuses and I confirmed my acceptance to a delighted Stuart.
Thereafter, faint dark vapours twisted above everything I did, even during Christmas and January Cornish breaks and weekends away with my Cariad. The vapours became a mist and the mist became a fog, which was all utterly stupid and unnecessary, made up of insecurity and lack of self-belief even though I knew that my actual work would certainly speak for itself. Sitting at the poolside table in Portugal with my laptop, I spent a whole day editing and re-editing the order of the images I’d finally chosen to illustrate the talk which was titled “There's Spirit in the Landscape”. Gradually, when the sequence started to make sense, to have a flow, to create a story, but a story containing narrative within the individual images, I finally started to relax a little. Within a couple of hours I had also created bullet points for the important points I really should mention and the dark cloud started to thin.
I have never, ever written a whole speech having always chosen instead to 'wing it' talking candidly, honestly, and fluidly, from the heart, on the spur, about a subject so close to me but without the basic rudiments of content to be covered it’s all too easy to forget critical or interesting background. When I read more about the nature of the JMT and about what their aims are, I realised that my latest book “Welsh Light”, (well at least the foreword to that book), was almost entirely relevant, a kindred voice about the importance of preserving the remnants of Britain’s wild places for the emotional and spiritual wellbeing they can bring and for the nature benefits they offer us. I felt that there was no point in re-inventing the wheel so I selected extracts from my book and decided to include them in my talk. I now knew that my worry was about running out of time during the talk, rather than how to fill the time but the biggest worry perhaps unsurprisingly was how many people would be there, would they find it fascinating or boring, would they heckle or applaud and indeed all the usual worries that anyone probably has before going in front of a large group of the public.
We arrived in Manchester, to find drizzle at midnight, as we’d been warned - the metaphorical dark clouds now a wet a sombre reality - but when I awoke the next morning the sun had come out and I found I was surging with positivity. Ken helped me in the gallery and we double-checked that the new iZettle card payment system was working ready for the talk as we’d be selling books and maybe some prints, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. We loaded the van at 4.00 pm and by now my adrenalin was kicking in to numb my nerves and if I wasn’t mistaken, I was almost feeling excited! We arrived at the Galeri and I met the lovely and helpful Iona Sutherland the membership secretary, who had already seen a preview of an initial draft selection before I’d left for Portugal and who'd loved the images and found my descriptions inspiring and thought provoking. I felt at ease when I saw her and she reassured me that everyone was looking forward to the talk after a great day in the Welsh hills with their guides.
I met technician at Y Galeri, Ian, in the auditorium and he and the sound engineer did audio and visual checks with me and for the first time I could see just how impressive their system was, full colour fidelity and sharpness (for a massive screen) and a crystal clear sound system. They had set up a podium, spotlights and even a jug of water on a glass table for me. It all felt very professional and having seen just how good my images would look on their screen, all my nerves disappeared (helped with a pint of larger I think) “At least I know the subject well enough” I thought to myself!
The crowd of approximately 130 eager guests filed in and took their seats, in respectful hushed tones and I was warmed to see several friends, family an professional colleagues sitting amongst the audience. I felt a surge of support and friendship and suddenly felt utterly relaxed, so much so that soon after I'd received a glowing and reverential introduction by Stuart Brooks saying they knew as soon as they’d checked out my web links and portfolio, that "I really was their man” for this critical first AGM in Wales I felt elated and positive. I thanked the two most important people outside of the JMT, who had persuaded me to do the talk in the first place, my partner Jan and my friend Ken, before launching into a passionate speech about the JMT, my love of Wales and its landscape, the importance of wild places, the potential destruction from industry and development, the need for us all to fight for areas of outstanding natural beauty. I knew I didn’t need my note sheets at all anymore. I read extracts from my book and was told later, (even by those who have read my books already), that my words were especially inspirational and moving when heard from the author's own mouth. The extracts led straight into a slideshow of 48 of my Welsh landscapes which not only gave me a chance to chat passionately about my feelings at the time, and my reasons and thoughts behind taking the pictures, but also gave the predominantly Scottish audience a visual whistle-stop tour of some intrinsically Welsh places to whet their appetites for future visits.
45 minutes raced by in what seemed like 15 and I received wonderful, loud applause from the audience before opening up a Q&A session. I was genuinely relieved by the intelligence of the questions, questions that showed acute attention to and astute interpretation of what I had been saying during my speech. Thankfully I don't think I heard one question about what camera I use, which is always heart-warming as it means the audience are more interested in my thoughts than the box that takes the picture. We did discuss subject, rationale, vision and execution - the process from initial observation through to final print, but this made for good discussion, as integrity and reasoning throughout the process is far more involved and intellectual than the topic of which brands I use.
After the talk and a superb thank you from a genuinely inspired CEO, (who told me quietly later that his degree was in fine art!) I met with a large throng of well wishers in the bar, one of whom, a super bright and gentle Scottish lady said, “That was the BEST lecture I have EVER been too” and then bought a signed copy of my book ☺ I chatted for almost ¾ of an hour with guests and sold many more signed books before finally packing the van and heading for the Liverpool Arms in Menai Bridge where my friends had already lined up drinks for us and who celebrated with a euphoric Glyn until 3.00 am!
My confidence has been fully restored and I will endeavour to never again let such dark clouds build up before a talk, especially when lying on a fabulous beach with a beautiful woman in gorgeous sunshine, 1000s of miles from home.
Thanks to everyone who came; to the JMT; to everyone who gave me support even if they couldn’t come; thanks to the Galeri staff; the organisers; my closest friends and some of my family; thanks to some fantastic colleagues and customers who made extraordinary efforts to attend, and thanks most of all, to my wonderful and proud Jan, who has suffered my tension these last few months but who has never faltered in bolstering me even when I was creating dark clouds in her blue skies!