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A Christmas Stocking

a commonplace selection
I run the European Speechwriter Network and I urge all A headmistress based in Switzerland would contact me on a regular basis with a request
members to keep a commonplace book. There are three steps to find her a joke for her end-of-year address. This was not easy. I had to wait to stumble
upon them. Here are the best I stored away.
to being good at commonplacing. First you have to read widely
and when you come across something striking, you copy it out A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.
and stick it in a notebook. Then when your book is full, you The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a
transcribe everything into a document on your computer, sorting human because even though it was a very large mammal, its throat was very
out the entries under titles like ‘birthdays’, ‘change’, ‘grief ’. small.
Using the computer search facilities, and your titles, you’ll be The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the
able to find your special passages very quickly. teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically

Why do I do this? Because it makes me a more attentive reader. The little girl said, “When I get to heaven, I will ask Jonah.”
It helps me identify and appreciate the ideas I care about and the The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?” The little girl replied,
style in which they are expressed. “Then you ask him.”

As a speechwriter, one joke, story or quotation, found at the right I was told the other day of a little girl sitting a test at school. The pupils had
time, for the right client, makes writing the rest of the speech been given a list of countries and asked to tick those in which they thought an
quite straightforward. It’s a process that politicians, playwrights elephant would be found. The girl wrote firmly at the bottom of her paper:
“This is a silly question. Elephants are much too big and much too clever to
and professional speakers use all the time. ever get lost in the first place.”

I bought some of John Julius Norwich’s Christmas Cracker

My class of 9-year-olds at St Mary’s Primary School, Southend-on-Sea had
commonplace selections and enjoyed them. Then I heard, after
just returned to school after the holidays. I asked each pupil if they had been
49 years of publishing his yuletide volumes, he died in 2018. away on a family trip. One boy said, “We visited Nan in Wythenshawe.”
I figure a homage to Mr Norwich’s tradition was the best way “Can you come up and write that on the white board please?” I asked.
to inspire others. He paused for a moment then replied. “Actually, she lives in Hull.”

Brian Jenner
September 2019
I enjoy reading David Gurteen’s Knowledge Letter which comes by email every month.
He’s an advocate of conversational leadership. He put these lines from Anthony de Mello
in his newsletter a long time ago. They have stuck in my mind ever since.

You know, all mystics – Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what

their theology, no matter what their religion – are unanimous on one thing:
that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange
paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is
well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

Alternatively you might prefer the Zen Comic Book saying:
I feel so much better since I gave up hope.

Published by the UK Speechwriters’ Guild
Designed by Goldust Design
© 2019 Brian Jenner
ISBN 9780956322623

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