The Mentor Chapter Twenty-Six – The last chapter, back to the beginning

November 26, 2023

Thank you for being with me as I have taken you around my exhibition. Your company has been so lovely and I am truly grateful for your support and encouragement. We are now at the end, and it is almost time to say goodbye, but before I go there is one last story to share.

In many museums and galleries the entrance and exit to the main exhibition are often next to each other with a shared milling area in between. A circular route takes visitors through the different rooms of the exhibition and back to where they started. Between the entrance and the exit there is a gentle hubbub and mingling of people, some wondering what they are about to see, others wondering how to make sense of what they have just seen. It is another of those liminal spaces to notice and pause within, where the beginning and the end look the same, but where we all have a different sense of what it means to be there.

There is an echo here for me in the Terry Pratchett quotation I mentioned earlier, the one I share with our delegates at the opening of every LBCambridge programme at Queens’ College:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours… And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

I love the idea of finding extra colours, but also of coming back to the place we started from. I would therefore like to bring us back to the beginning of this exhibition, because now we are at the end, coming back to the beginning feels very different to when we started, and is definitely not the same as never leaving.

In Chapter One you found me walking into a Baker Street café to meet a man called Lawrence. Now, nearly twenty-three years later, I have just parked in front of a café at the edge of a Cotswold village for another meeting with Lawrence.

The Old Prison Café at Northleach, between Bourton-on-the-Water and Chedworth in the valley of the River Leach, serves fancy artisan coffees, and crucially for Lawrence and me, a beltingly good Old Spot hot sausage roll. The café building, dating from the 1790’s, was once a small prison and visitors today can still view the original courtroom and the cells that housed inmates prior to trial. The Old Prison is one of our regular meeting places where we discuss our plans, projects and events. Meetings which, over the years, may have become less about our strategic output and more about the quality of the breakfast input.

Working with someone for nearly twenty-three years and speaking with them nearly every day, is not very usual these days. Even more unusual, I think, is that in all that time Lawrence and I have never had a cross word, and never disagreed on what we wanted to do or how we wanted to do it. We have challenged each other’s thinking, changed our minds as a result, and worked hard to give every idea a fighting chance, but we have always found the way forward and committed ourselves to it.

I would like to say that we are a true business partnership, but to be honest the word “partnership” does not feel precious enough and seems too transactional for the way we work. Lawrence is and always will be so much more than a business partner, and even more than a dear and precious friend.

My mum summed up Lawrence better than I ever will. She used to say to me when we were flying off to South Africa or to the US, or other far-flung places, “Is Lawrence going with you? I always want Lawrence to be with you, he is your guardian angel.”

I will struggle to convey the depth of my respect and love for Lawrence. He is the most extraordinary person I have ever worked with. Every week he will say something or do something that will make me stop in my tracks at his thoughtfulness, kindness and creativity. His judgement and resourcefulness are superpowers he carries so lightly, that it would be possible for some people to miss the care, ingenuity and the profoundly important difference he makes, but it also means he sees more, hears more, and does more.

When Lawrence says, “we are all just passing through”, it isn’t so that we should care less about what we do, but that we should care less for how we let these things affect us. No one I have ever met could care more than Lawrence about doing the best possible work at all times, and his attention to every possible detail is extraordinary; but he also knows not to dwell waiting for validation or vindication, and so he moves on to find the next person to help, the next problem to solve and the next team to make better.

I know that without Lawrence there would never have been an event like LBCambridge (or, therefore, all the other events we have created together since). Indeed, if you recall my meeting with him in the Baker Street café, my career as a consultant, mentor and presenter would not have survived contact with my first client. He has been, and I hope he always will be, a guiding light in my life.

Without Lawrence’s Baker Street intervention, I suspect I would have drifted back into just another corporate role, and I may have fallen into that slightly entitled, slightly complacent place where it would have been tempting to settle for comfortable mediocrity. Instead, I have had an extraordinary adventure working with amazing people across the world and travelling to places I didn’t even dream of seeing as a small boy in a small town wondering how on earth I would ever make my way in the world.

Lawrence gave me permission to be myself and then backfilled like crazy to make sure our ideas could become real. He protected me, lifted me and encouraged me whenever doubt, or fear or sadness fell into my path. My mum was absolutely right, he is indeed my guardian angel.

So, here I am at the Old Prison Café on 29 August 2023, and the Old Spot sausage rolls are ordered; we’re meeting to plan the final details for the next LBCambridge programme in September, the thirty-first time we have held the event.

Before we get to that part of our agenda we have our standard preliminary check-in on the latest adventures with Lawrence’s grandchildren, the weekend football and all manner of other world affecting strategic stuff as befits such a high-powered important meeting.

However this time, unusually, I sense a slight hesitation in Lawrence’s manner, and then he says, “I’ve been thinking bud, I think this Cambridge will be my last. It’s time to stop. Let’s make it a special one, but I will be done when it’s over.”

I have always known this time would come. We have talked for a few years about what would happen if either of us wanted to stop. Covid nearly killed the business in 2020, and it has been a huge effort to bring it back; we could easily have packed it away then, but we didn’t. And I am so proud that we showed the world there was even more meaning in our work after all that everyone had been through in those terrible dark days of the pandemic.

But now the end has arrived in a few short words from Lawrence, and I don’t quite have the words to say to him what should be said.

What I think I said in reply is, “that’s brilliant my friend. I think you are right, we have done enough, but I am so pleased we get to do one more event together.”

We began the story twenty-three years ago in one café and we finish the story in another. The exit is next to the entrance, a circular path through amazing adventures, where we shared kindness, friendship and joy in every day.

“Why do we go away?” asked Terry Pratchett; to which I can answer emphatically, so that we can come back. So that we can see the place we came from with new eyes and different colours. Coming back to where we started is not the same as never leaving.

I wasn’t sure, at the start of this story, how the exhibition would end. Typically, it seems, I started something that I didn’t know how to finish without Lawrence showing me the way.

We are indeed all passing through, and there will be wonderful new adventures for us both, and new stories to tell in the months and years to come. However, what I want you to know most of all right now, is that when Lawrence said to me he wanted to stop, it was the first and only time in twenty-three years, from Baker Street to The Old Prison Café, that he has asked of me something for himself.

How could I possibly be sad or disappointed.

And what an absolute blast we have had finding extra colours as we were just passing through.

Take care.

With love. Paul xx

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