Time to hang up my boots?

Giving a talk to 1,200 people in Belgrade in November 2012. This is the biggest audience I have ever addressed.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had a minor heart attack just after Christmas and ended up having an emergency procedure called a cardiac angioplasty. It’s a very simple operation to unblock an artery in your heart. It’s completely painless and done under a local anaesthetic, which is only needed to numb the place where they insert a catheter, either through your wrist or through … um … your groin.

The catheter then wings its way up through your veins and blows up a tiny balloon in your heart, which pushes out the blockage. Occasionally they use a drill, which you can hear rat-tat-tatting in your chest, but this is also painless. Then they put in a little piece of metal called a stent, to make sure the artery remains open.

001 Stent4_fcm
Stents. I think the ones I have are like the one on the right. Like something you might find inside an old-fashioned ball-point pen.

I think you’ll agree it sounds like a very Monty Python solution to the problem.

Because of a couple of minor post-procedural complications, I finished up spending ten days in hospital. Looking back, there was a lot that was quite amusing about the whole thing. A couple of incidents were genuinely farcical, including an argument between two nurses, one Indian, the other Chinese, about the best way to give me a body wash in bed, an argument which started after they had stripped me naked.

Suffice it to say, the treatment I received from the National Health Service was amazing, with committed and tireless staff from every corner of the world working punishing twelve-hour shifts.

Having a heart attack, it will not surprise you to hear, makes you sit up and think a bit. It is indeed, as they say, one of nature’s ways of telling you to slow down.

One of the cardiac consultants, an Irish woman called Doctor Connolly, came to talk to me about what would happen when I went home.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I write material for English learners,” I replied.

“Oh good,” she said, “so quite a sedentary job?”

“Um … kind of.”

“I mean … not too much running about?” she added.

“Actually, I go to quite a lot of conferences in other countries,” I said.

I described more about my working life. I told her that I was due to give a talk in Qatar on the 18th January, in less than two weeks’ time, followed by visits to Istanbul and Tehran in February and Dubai in mid-March. There were other visits planned for April and May. Her eyes widened as I listed the destinations.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to cancel some of those trips,” she said. “I really don’t think you should fly anywhere for the next three months.”

I knew that my non-appearance would cause problems to some of the organisers, so before I say anything else, I want to thank Peter Grundy who stepped in at very short notice and did the plenary I was supposed to do at Qatar University.

But you know what? Despite feeling very concerned about having to give my somewhat alarming news to the organisers, I felt an immense feeling of relief when the consultant grounded me. The projected number of participants in Qatar was 500, and the lovely Çevre conference in Istanbul attracts about the same number. Even more than that had signed up to attend the first-ever IELTA conference in Tehran.

Knowing that I wouldn’t have to get on my hind legs in front of hundreds of people in the near future made me feel relieved. Giving talks at big conferences is an immense privilege and, when they go well, can bring feelings of great achievement and joy. But the more you do, the more people expect you to be vaguely interesting, and as a result the anxiety leading up to that moment when you clamber onto the stage gets bigger every time.

I don’t know if other conference speakers feel this way, but this is what my enforced period of reflection in hospital told me.

It was then that the question first occurred to me in the form of a sporting metaphor: Is it time to hang up my boots?

I’m going to answer that question in my next blog.

Before I sign off, another thank you, this time to all the people in Iran who made it possible for me to appear by means of a recorded webinar at the IELTA conference in Tehran. Especially the conference organiser Bita Rezaei and my webinar moderator Sara Medghalchi.

2 Iran 1

I recorded the webinar on my Macbook at home, using only the built-in microphone in the computer itself. And it was good enough for people to hear what I had to say in quite a big conference room.

3 Iran 2

Next time: how and when on earth did all this jetting around the world start?






18 thoughts on “Time to hang up my boots?

  1. Read with interest – I retired about 18 months ago. Hmmm. I liked the bit about the nurses in hospital – I was visiting a friend recently and asked the nurse “Where’s the lavatory?” her answer: ” We don’t have a patient oif that name on this ward”

  2. Ken, 805 amazing people follow you on your blog. I am sure that if you started giving conferences without jetting all over the globe, many amazing people like myself would tune in to listen to you, an amazing person.
    Hanging up your boots is one thing, but hanging up your wings and your hat is another.

    I’m looking forward to continuing following you.
    From one amazing person to another.
    Ellen in Mexico

  3. Hi Ellen!

    you hit a nerve with that comment. I think most people who have had the good fortune to jet around to ELT conferences at other people’s expense know that those days are coming to an end. Publishers aren’t spending as much as they used to and they’re also asking speakers to do webinars rather than conferences. But I still like the idea of GOING to conferences, even if I don’t speak at them. 🙂

    1. Ouch! Pain was unintended!
      I also happen to love going conferences, especially if I am participating! However, here in Mexico, we have something that we have been living with for almost 20 years…it’s called the crisis. here in Mexico, we are experts. So that has translated into not going to conferences and convention (sniff, sniff) and thus I have been networking since 2011. Organizing regional and local conferences through MEXTESOL stopped being viable in 2014, so my only connection with other amazing brilliant people who share their amazingness has been through virtual spaces. I miss the hubbub, the human factor, and the books, but I have been able to connect with amazing people in new ways. Yes, it’s not the same, but it’s better than isolation!

      MOOCs, Webinars…it’s the difference between cuddling up with a good book and cuddling up with…a kindle!
      I get it. Sorry for the pain inflicted.

      1. No pain, no gain! 🙂

        I really didn’t mean it was painful in that way – just that the reality in many places is exactly as you describe it. It certainly sounds as if you are networking well. Keep it up!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Ken. I have been having some of the same thoughts, the travel can be quite intense. Just one more conference before the summer break and then recharge batteries time!

  5. Mea parvitas was among those 1200 people in Belgrade back in 2012. I must say you looked quite relaxed despite having to address so many English teachers at once. Perhaps Adele’s song you played for us helped a little. 🙂 I also remember your workshops at the Winter Seminar held the year before. All of us enjoyed them immensely. Unfortunately, there are no OUP Days or Winter Seminars organised anymore. I miss those times.
    Webinars are fine, but the feeling is not the same. Not the same energy. Do not hang up your boots yet. Please. Promise? 🙂

  6. Well listen here old man….!

    (and thank you NHS for doing your job!!!)

    The anxiety thing? It gets worse, not better as the time passes. An enormous sense of responsibility, an obligation to meet people’s expectations and, more than that, to have something genuinely useful to say. Not easy. Certainly not easier!

    Weird times for us lot. On the other hand if a man less than 4 years younger than me can excite an entire nation through his own integrity and charisma (and have such a great given name), well maybe that’s a sign???

    On the other hand I have some VERY nice guitars!!!

    1. Did I say it was because I was old? Without giving anything away, there will be more twists and turns in this narrative.

      I think you should make that bit about Jeremy Corbyn a bit clearer for our international readership! 🙂

  7. Dear Ken:
    I guess you may have been told this many times: anything you do and say is inspiring or something more than that: you write and speak from your heart to your audience’ hearts so maybe that is why it’ s been kind of tired lately… And from my heart to yours now: Do not even think of stop doing if you still have the energy to do so.! I never had the pleasure to be in any of your talks, so you owe me one!.
    The ELT world needs you as well as some other great ones as you.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and take good care of yourself.🌺

    1. Hi Fabiana! thank you for the kind words. I don’t have any talks planned in Argentina, so I hope you can attend a webinar, if I do one soon. 🙂

    1. Hi Vicky!

      nice to see you here. Thanks for visiting! I think I’m OK now, but have reduced the ‘rock and roll’ life-style to just ‘roll’ – a cheese roll, preferably. 🙂

      1. I’m so happy to hear you are better – take care! I’ve said it many times, you’re a hero. And in this case once again, you are!

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