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Chester Chronicles: Paddy
  1. C O’Mahony
  1. Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Trust, Chester CH2 1UL, UK;

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    I was well satisfied! Hours of laptopping, configuring, enhancing, deleting, and modifying had now produced a very comprehensive HIV PowerPoint presentation. There were pie charts, histograms, busy tables, references, p values of perfection, and more mutations than a Van Helsing movie. All I needed now was a gentle introduction—a “hook” as they call it. Something to grab the audience’s attention while they munched away at the crisp-free (too noisy!) lunch packs at the BASHH GSK symposium in beautiful Bath. A recent expedition to the local Welsh mountains provided some stunning backdrops and suddenly there was the slide. It both alarmed and startled me. It was me and the dog halfway up a Welsh scree slope. At first glance I couldn’t tell us apart. It had started to happen. I was beginning to look like my dog! I had heard of this sort of thing before, but never seen the proof. Not only was the hair identical, but we both bore the same bemused and bewildered expression. Shocked though I was, I realised that I had at least found my hook. This slide would be a source of comfort for all those other animal owners who thought that they were the only ones undergoing this phenomenon.

    The day came, up I stood, and away I went. When the dog and I appeared in the Welsh mountain the munching stopped. The slide had struck home and I now had their undivided attention and was able to lay on the heavy stuff. My co-presenters Martin and Anna also did brilliantly, and at the end of the session there was a good feeling.

    Over the next two days at the conference, several people collared me in various locations, indicating they had a question they needed answering about my talk. Now, mutations, genotyping, phenotyping, and virtual editions of the same leave me wanting to lie down in a darkened room. However, time and time again, my fears proved unfounded, as the most technically demanding question every time was, “what’s the dog’s name?” “He’s called Paddy.” Paddy was a big hit.

    Now, I was once accused of being a triumph of style over substance by a mischievous colleague. However, I regard that as a compliment. Oscar Wilde said—there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. Being remembered is critically important for a speaker. It’s even better if you are remembered in a positive, amusing, and interesting manner. People rarely get or want technical data from a talk. They want a flavour, intrigue, and your personal slant, rather than bald facts which can be far more readily assimilated in printed form. So what—if I am lumbered with the label of “the guy who looked like his dog.” At the end of our session in the hall there was an air of contentment. The early finish was the final icing and I felt we had gone some way towards George Bernard Shaw’s epitome of good speaking—“I have never yet heard a talk that could not have been louder, shorter, or funnier.”

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    Later that day, I was again pleased to overhear two delegates discussing “Dr O’Mahony’s talk” and saying how they absolutely must get him for their upcoming autumn conference. I proudly said I would be delighted to travel to their neck of the woods and do my thing, only to embarrassingly discover that it was Paddy the dog that they had in mind.