What Bob said.

I was sitting gazing out of the window when the phone rang.

“Hello. Is that Rethink?”

“Yes it is. Can I help you?”

“Yes, my name’s Helen. I’m phoning from the mental health social work team at St. Edward’s Hospital. I’m hoping you might be able to help a client of mine…you see he’s being evicted by his landlord and I’m really worried about him.”

“That’s awful. What a shame you weren’t at your team meeting yesterday. My colleague Richard came to talk about our new tenancy support service…for situations just like this.”

“But I was at our team meeting…..”

Did she just zone out? Was she distracted by her phone? Was listening to a presentation just not her way of taking new information on board?


I had a friend called Dave who worked in the City of London as some sort of white collar worker. He lived in a tiny one bed-roomed house in Essex and commuted backwards and forwards every day on a crowded train.

Every Friday on his way home he passed a man giving out leaflets about the BUAV – the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (they’re called Cruelty Free International now). One day he took one of the leaflets and stuffed it into his suit pocket with barely a second glance.

Two years later he was clearing out his wardrobe when he came across the crumpled leaflet. He sat on the floor and read it. It had quite an effect on him.

I met Dave about 3 years after this. He was speaking at the BUAV annual conference…as one of the Trustees. I visited Dave a year later at his animal rescue centre in Pembrokeshire. He and his wife had given up their jobs in the City; were both vegan and were as happy as Larry.


I was listening to Gardeners’ Question Time many years ago and heard Bob Flowerdew answering a question about celery.

The questioner was having real problems getting celery to grow in their garden.

Bob was not surprised.

He told the questioner that celery needed lots of water.

“You’ll need to water celery even when it’s raining.” said Bob.

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3 responses to “What Bob said.

  1. All too often I come across situations like that you relate about the phone call from St. Edward’s (that certainly dates it to at least a couple of decades ago) – you give people all the information you can reasonably do only for someone to completely miss the point or show that they simply haven’t been listening. Part of me wonders whether that can be on occasions because the issue that you’re telling them about doesn’t register if they haven’t encountered the scenario in question themselves so it doesn’t sink in.

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  2. Thanks Rob. It is an old story but one that I find myself telling a lot because it’s so enduring. We’ve all been that social worker. We’ve all been my mate Dave (at least we’ve all ‘rediscovered’ something we’ve had for years and suddenly it’s been the ‘right time’ for us to connect with it). Anyone in the communication game needs to remember that getting our message to really hit home is like getting water to celery. Once is rarely enough.

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  3. John,
    A recent example that I’ve encountered – Kidsgrove Sports Centre with a swimming pool recently closed. Owned by the County Council and operated by the Borough Council. Building in a poor state and not by any stretch of the imagination cost effective to continue patching up. Residents up in arms despite there being a modern Sports Centre with a swimming pool in Newcastle a few miles away, plus nearby ones in Tunstall and Alsager – how could they be expected to travel so far (although distance was no barrier to them coming the same distance for 2 protests)?
    It was well known that the Sports Centre was in a poor state, and although the way the actual closure was announced left quite a bit to be desired, residents would have to be very good at ostrich impersonations to be unaware.
    Unfortunately, one politician had gone around telling people i Kidsgrove that “We’ll have a brand new Sports Centre – if we can raise £20M”. People I think only heard the first part, the bit they wanted to hear. If only been it had been “If we can raise £20M, we’ll have a brand new Sports Centre” that had been said ….

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