Notes from Piers, no 173 – Forget Starlight Express

Piers Clark talks about food landmarks, WaterAid, Haiti and Richard Stilgoe.

Earlier this month I spent a delightful evening at the top of The Gherkin with Richard Stilgoe. For readers not familiar with Richard, he was famous 3 decades ago for being a witty, charming, raconteur who frequently appeared on TV.1  Think of him as a 1970s Stephen Fry, only wittier. Best known for his humorous songs he wrote the lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webbers ‘Starlight Express’ and was part of the writing team behind ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Lovely bloke that he is, he has donated a significant proportion of his royalties from these shows to various charities, including WaterAid. No wonder he was knighted in 2012. 

I confess that I was not enjoying an exclusive 1-2-1 evening with Sir Richard. We were attending a WaterAid fundraiser. Part of the evenings fundraising activities included a silent auction, and a ‘personalized poem’ composed by Sir Richard was one of the coveted lots. Buoyed by the fact that my money would support WaterAid I bid feverishly and won. Next came the dilemma of deciding to whom I should dedicate my personalized poem. 

Better men may have been tempted to dedicate such a unique gift to their wives. Or gift it to their children for future generations to enjoy. Not me. There was only ever one recipient I wanted my poem to focus on, and that is Isle. Isle is the specialist technical consultancy for which I have been Chairman since it formed in 2010. Today Isle employs 60 people, spread across 8 locations around the world. Our goal is simple: to help the water sector embrace and adopt new technology. I love Isle. 

Forget Starlight Express, this could be the start of ‘Isle The Musical’

The fact that 48 hours previously I had been in Haiti with 7 of my Isle colleagues participating in the 5th annual 10km sea swim probably also shaped my decision. As has been recorded in these blogs previously, Isle has strong links with Haiti. This year the Isle team was raising money for Watering Minds, who provide clean water to local schools. $13k has been raised to date by the Isle team, which will ensure over 2600 children get clean water for the next year. Donations can still be made ( Highlights are here:–zk_XjTEHwTVT1Ifdt/view?usp=sharing.

Quite by chance this year I discovered the secret to having a successful swim. Once the initial horn is blown all the swimmers disperse very quickly and it can become a very long, very lonely and very gruelling event. This year, after about 2km I spotted another swimmer 20 yards ahead of me. It was a lady about my age, powering her way through the sea. I was immediately taken back 30 years to when I first met my wife at our local swimming club. I would chase her down the pool, trying to keep up. I locked into the same mind-set, imagined that she was my wife and that I was once more a hormonal 17 year old chasing the woman of my dreams through the water. The remaining miles just melted away and we crossed the finish line together, achieving personal bests of 2 hours and 54 minutes. Admittedly this is 30 minutes behind the winner, but he was a man called Diego and had the distinct advantage of having been born with both gills and fins. 

When I shared with my new swimming partner, whom I had been chasing for the previous 2 hours, that my mental strategy had been to fantasize that she was my wife, she gave me a look that could only be interpreted as ‘Step back Wierdo. You are a creep’. Somehow the deeply romantic angle to my strategy, which had seemed so righteous at the time, got lost in the telling. My wife seemed equally unimpressed. Apparently chasing other women is always wrong. Always. Period.  

I may need to rethink to whom my poem is dedicated. 

 For readers not familiar with The Gherkin it is an iconic London building, so named for its uncanny resemblance to a small pickled cucumber. Other London landmarks named after fish and chip accompianments include the Curry Sauce Interchange and Pickled Egg Circus. 


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Notes from Piers, no 174 – A Valentines day Poem