World-changers at Work presents: a life-stage fairytale - how Beryl and Clive found the meaning of life.

Telling stories can make all the difference to helping people make a difference in the world. And if told in the right way at the right time might even give fundraisers their best ever opportunity…

Written by
Ken Burnett
Added
May 02, 2019

A life-stage fairy-tale: how Beryl and Clive found the meaning of life.

Fifty-nine-year-old Clive Broomhead is only half listening to the radio. He’s doing the housework, a chore set to occupy most of his morning. This may be because his heart’s not in it, or perhaps he’s just not very good at it. Or maybe it’s because Beryl, Clive’s wife of 35 years, keeps adding fresh tasks so he’s no sooner finished one thing than it’s on to the next. Beryl is a hard taskmistress.

Clive is doing the hoovering. In the background, from the radio, a succession of interviews are coming at him live from the revellers then thronging Glastonbury, Britain’s premier outdoor music festival. For Clive this is deep background, particularly with the hoover on. So he’s only vaguely aware of the interviewer’s increasingly desperate attempts to glean conversational gems from a succession of drop-ins to the festival’s radio tent. Beryl is elbow deep in suds in the kitchen, so not listening to the radio at all. 

Then as Clive paused in his hoovering to release some jammed paper a curious phrase from one of the interviewees cut through to his subconscious and stopped him in his tracks. He rubbed his ears in disbelief. Next moment Beryl’s usually restrained, taciturn husband was waggling his radio under her nose while waving his other hand wildly in the air. Something was up. 

‘Did you hear that Beryl? Did you hear that?’ Clive had turned the hoover off, to facilitate matters.

Of course she hadn’t. Beryl glowered up at her husband as if finally he’d lost the plot.

‘Eh?’ ‘From Glastonbury! The old Druid! I nearly missed it... What he said...’ 

‘Did you know,’ said Beryl, trying to be calm and reasonable, ‘that the first Glastonbury was held in 1970, the day after Jimi Hendrix died?’

‘Eh? What? No. No! That’s not the point. Just listen...’

Across the airwaves from deepest Somerset the interview was still in mid flow, though the interviewer was struggling to keep up with what seemed to be a voluble, evidently eccentric interviewee.

‘He’s a hippy Beryl. The old bloke he’s talking to. No, he’s a Druid. Really. Listen!’ shouted Clive. ‘He says he’s found the meaning of life.’

‘What are you on about? The meaning of life?’ ‘Yes, yes, listen, you cloth-eared bint. Just listen!’ As Beryl focused reluctantly on what was going on she caught the interviewer’s breathless, high-pitched description of what the ageing Druid was at that instant pulling from the folds of his robe, the faded old bottle battered by time and tide, stained by sun and salt water that was being squeezed out from under the old man’s clothing and plonked on the table before him. It was an ordinary, empty bottle of domestic bleach.

‘He’s a charlatan!’ Beryl whispered. ‘Hush,’ Clive replied. ‘Yes,’ the old Druid was intoning with relish. ‘Indeed sir yes, I do know the meaning of life. I read it, here, on the back of this bottle of bleach. The meaning of life. Read it! Read it!’

Clive and Beryl could picture the interviewer’s expression as hesitatingly, as if translating the inscription on a sacred scroll, he read from the faded, cracked label and couldn’t quite believe his words,

‘Stand upright, in a cool place.’ 

There was a pause.

‘That’s it?’

‘There,’ said the old Druid. ‘Told you, din’t I? There you have it. The meaning of life! That’s all I ever want to do. Stand upright, in a cool place.’

There was another embarrassed pause. ‘Mad old bugger,’ announced Beryl.   

More silence. Suddenly, determinedly, her husband switched off the radio and stood before her as one transported, lost in thought.

‘No, Beryl, he’s right’

Clive spoke slowly, with conviction, as if he’d just undergone an epiphany. ‘He’s one hundred per cent right Beryl, as it happens. That’s it. That’s all I want to do, too. Stand upright, in a cool place.’

‘Clive, darling,’ Beryl exclaimed. ‘Have you lost your marbles?’

‘Not at all, Beryl. No, I mean it. It’s time we changed the wallpaper of our lives. Time we stopped fussing around and stood upright. And did cool things. Time we weren’t always only thinking of ourselves and doing things selfishly for the family, for us. Not cure cancer or anything. But do something useful, make a difference. That sort of thing.

‘I’m not bonkers Beryl, not a bit. It’s like we’ve been rushing headlong these last 30 years, doing what we have to do because we have to do it. Now, maybe, could we change it all round and do what we want to do instead? I mean, the meaning of life. Why not?’

Beryl’s dismay softened, just a bit. She thought to herself, maybe Clive is right. Then she had a startling realisation – as long as we can keep our comfy lifestyle I could be with you in this, Clive old chap. Really, I could.’

But she kept it to herself. What she said was, ’Come off it Clive, we can’t afford to stand upright, in a cool place, or any other place, with our outgoings, in these recessionary times. How would we pay for all this, “what we want to do”?’

That’s when the Life-Stage Fairy intervened. Because she felt she had to. And she changed Beryl and Clive’s lives forever. 

When planets align 

The market for something to believe in really is infinite. Everybody wants to change the world. Most of us would like to reorder our own lives too. The trouble is, nobody wants to change themselves. Change is uncomfortable, difficult, disruptive and distracting. Our days are full enough and we just don’t have room to cope with the upheaval of change.

Mañana, mañana, we say, and put off inconvenient things until another time. But another time never quite arrives.

Except, that is, on ultra-special occasions, when we find within ourselves the power to confront change head on and make it happen. Or, more likely, when we reach any of a small number of significant milestones in our lives, when change becomes more easily achievable, more practical, even on some occasions unavoidable. Though very rare, such times come to almost everyone. To some, however, more reliably and more convincingly than others.

These are the life-stage moments. They’re singular, precious and few. Life-stage moments occur throughout our lives. When we leave our parents’ home, change career, become parents, or when our children leave home. For most people a life-stage moment comes when they retire. Some manage it earlier. Some never manage it at all. The most incredible, most wonderful, most valuable thing about such times is the capacity they have to enable each of us to make a massive difference to our own lives and the lives of others. 

Beryl and Clive Broomhead were perched on the verge of a well- deserved, comfortable, not to say stress- and anxiety-free, retirement. It’s at times like this when folk like Beryl and Clive are most likely to be visited by that curious phenomenon, the Life-Stage Fairy. Bear with me, please, this is a fairytale.

She, of course, only ever intervenes in earthly affairs when someone needs the kind of celestial intercession only she can make. Her aim is to help anyone she can to find their way through a bewildering transition, to emerge at the other side confident, competent and relaxed in an important new role: world-changer.

It’s for people like these and the opportunities they provide that we tell stories, to help them change the world. And stories – whether you believe in fairies or not – can work their magic at any time.

So here goes. 

Once upon a time, in a land near at hand and not at all long, long ago there lived a happily married couple, Clive, an honest shoe-mender, and Beryl, his wife, a  high-flying international investment banker. Clive and Beryl were very happy together. They lived comfortably in an elegant, spacious house in a well-served, tree- lined suburb of the capital with their two academically bright though dull and gangly sons, their three plain but accomplished daughters, a superior cat called Cosmo and a mangy, flea-bitten pooch called Eric.

As soon as she discovered that at last this fortunate pair had stumbled upon the meaning of life, the Life-Stage Fairy sprinkled magic stardust over the daily domestic routines that defined their busy lives.

And then everything changed.

‘You, Beryl and Clive Broomhead,’ she explained, ‘are now approaching that very special time of your lives: the golden years. Soon your children will fly the nest, your pets are on their last legs, your mortgage has been paid in full, your parents have passed on, your pension funds are about to kick in and several chunky insurance policies are soon to mature, all conveniently just when work pressures for both of you, such as they are, are about to reduce considerably.‘ 

Beryl and Clive reflected on this. Comfortable though life now was, it hadn’t always been a bed of roses. For the best part of two decades they’d laboured to make their way and pay the bills. They’d scrimped, sacrificed and struggled to raise, feed, train and please their brood of dependants. Throughout those challenging, hectic years Clive and Beryl had little time, money or inclination for anything other than merely surviving.

But they were still very happy. Well, fairly. True, as the years passed the struggles had slowed and the sacrificing and scrimping lessened too. Until today they’d never noticed that life for them had become really rather agreeable. In this their lives differed but little from those of a substantial part of the human population, when they too reach ‘a certain age’.

‘From now on,’ the fairy announced, ‘no more doing what you have to do. Life has changed, there’s no going back. Now, you can do what you want to do.’

She then informed them that imminently they would be transformed into PINKs: pension + income + no kids. It was a moment of earth-shattering insight. They’d soon have time on their hands and money to spend to match their unfulfilled ambitions.

Clive and Beryl were delighted. ‘Is this the meaning of life?’ Clive asked, in disbelief. ‘You just wait,’ said Beryl. ‘The world will now beat a path to our door.’ Clive looked worried. ‘We’d better start building barricades,’ he said.

‘Why?’ exclaimed the Life-Stage Fairy.

‘Why, to keep out the cadgers, that’s why,’ snorted Beryl. ‘The opportunists, the rogues, anxious to part us from our assets. Financial investment advisers, hucksters, charlatans, charity fundraisers and their likes, who’ll soon surround us and besiege us with blandishments, flattery, subterfuge and enticements to separate us from our hard-earned dosh, to impoverish us as we enrich everyone else.’

‘Crikey no!’ exclaimed Clive, aghast. ‘Not charity fundraisers! For goodness sakes, not them.’

‘Oh, come on you pair, it won’t be so bad,’ said the LSF. ‘Get used to it. Be glad. You’ve got disposable income. And time. Suck it up why don’t you? The world now will be your lobster. But, ... there’s just one condition attached.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Beryl and Clive in unison.

‘Have fun by all means. Party, party, party. But the condition for being allowed to live long enough to enjoy this new life-stage is... you have a new duty, to act wisely and unselfishly. Some of the time, with at least some of your new-found wealth, you have to do some things that will make the world a better place.

‘What kind of things?’ asked Beryl and Clive fearfully.

‘Ah, that,’ said the fairy, ‘remains to be seen. Think about the old Druid and standing upright in a cool place. The beauty of that part of this life-stage is, it’s entirely up to you.’

‘You mean,’ said Clive, ‘we should maybe make a plan, should consider how to fill the next three decades of our now comfortable, time-rich but not entirely meaningless lives? We should work out a way to leave a lasting legacy, while having fun?’

‘Yep. That’s about the shape of it.’

Thanks to the Life-Stage Fairy and some fortuitous retirement planning, a magic carpet of opportunities began to unfold before the Broomheads’ startled eyes. Clive and Beryl were all set to become...donors.

Or, maybe not. The thing is, they have the choice.

They could if they wished dabble in politics, or the arts. Or they could opt to kick up their heels and spend their money on a seemingly endless succession of good times. They could travel and see the world, sail the seas, be kidnapped by Somali pirates, or trek the Hindu Kush, that sort of thing.

They were, it seemed, set to live happily ever after.

The Life-Stage Fairy then made an admission followed by a dire warning.

‘You did have a bit of a point, back there Beryl, when you were going on about the cadgers,’ she confessed. ‘As soon as you pass 60, it’s true, a procession of sales people, lifestyle gurus and others of good intent but often suspect practices will arrive on your doorstep. They exist solely to target the likes of you two; they’ll buzz around with urgent appeals, proposals, scripts and other inducements, all designed to part you as quickly as possible from what will soon become a rapidly diminishing pile.’

At this Beryl and Clive fell to bickering over the challenges and opportunities of their new lives, so the Life-Stage Fairy took her leave. Her parting shot from outside their window was, ‘Just remember, Beryl and Clive, that despite all this, things aren’t so bad. Some of these people will engage and inspire you, will help you to open doors to a cornucopia of good things that you can do, now, to help yourself and the rest of the world too. You may even make new friends.

‘You can rejoice, Beryl and Clive,’ she announced as she unfolded her wings and readied her broomstick for a swift departure, ‘for at this point, into this frenzy of hard-selling, over-information and excessive asking there will appear a shining knight or, even, a shining damsel, rushing to the rescue, to see you alright.’

And saying this, the Life-Stage Fairy turned to...you! 

Yes. That’s right, dear reader. She was describing you. At that moment Beryl and Clive too looked up, to see you, sitting there on the sidelines, looking in. As the Life-Stage Fairy explains your role in things, all three are regarding you with eager anticipation.

The Life-Stage Fairy knows you want to be different and distinctive, that you’re a storyteller with a plan, way above the rest. She’s confident that you’ll reach into Clive and Beryl’s lives in a responsible, caring way. That you’ll excite their interests and their imaginations, inspire their altruism, free their inhibitions and, generally, give their lives the meaning, fulfilment and the joy of living and giving that they so urgently seek.

That’s the Life-Stage Fairy’s mission.

Beryl and Clive Broomhead and hundreds of thousands of life-stage enhanced prospects just like them are waiting, now, just for you. And what’s the most effective way for you to get through to them? Why, of course, with stories

Fairy-tales have meaning too 

Beryl and Clive, like millions of couples and individuals and even groups like them, will be determined to enjoy this new stage in life. Soon planning for fulfilling, productive years post-work and pre-decline will become the norm. People will prepare earlier for this, the time of their lives, and budget for it. They’ll aspire to make the most of life as the scramble starts to take advantage of the potential opportunities offered by a decade or two of active retirement. Marketers of every shape and style will love this group and shower attentions upon them. So smart storytellers will get in there quick with their inspirational causes and claims.

Beryl and Clive won’t be a soft touch. They’ll be unresponsive to waffle, superficiality or empty offers. They’ll look for sensitive, considerate, interesting engagement. So stories will often get through where direct requests won’t.

Even before they leave their jobs for the bliss of retirement Beryl and Clive may be of additional interest to you, the transformational storyteller. If say, through Beryl, you were to aspire to influence her international company on the positive rewards of corporate social engagement. Or to pique their curiosity as to how valuable storytelling might be in boosting company morale, or to have a go at uniting every employee behind the new strategy, or improving the messaging, appeal and presentation of a range of financial services.

Clive too might be excited by your enthusiasm if your stories, spun well, could influence him in his role as school governor. You might encourage him to persuade the teachers at his school to improve storytelling in the classroom, thereby benefiting successive generations of students who now might find their lessons much more interesting and memorable.

Unlike most fairy-tales, the value in these opportunities is real enough, for sure. In fact it’s the best fundraising opportunity in all the world – because just when Beryl, Clive and their likes need it most, it equips you with all you need to know about telling stories to help them to change their – and your – world. 

© Ken Burnett 2019. This article has been adapted from Storytelling can change the world by Ken Burnett, The White Lion Press London 2014.

Storytelling can change the world is reviewed here, on SOFII.

About the author: Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett

Ken Burnett is author of Relationship Fundraising and other books including The Tiny Essentials of an Effective Volunteer Board (The White Lion Press Limited, London, UK) and The Zen of Fundraising, (Jossey-Bass Inc, San Francisco, USA). His latest – and in his view, most important – book is Storytelling can change the world, just published by The White Lion Press.

Ken is also SOFII's managing trustee.

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