Renee

Being homeless, being creative, being lost for words

The Girl from the North Country is a play at the Old Vic by Conor McPherson, set in 1930’s America during the depression and featuring a Bob Dylan playlist. Shirley Henderson stars, playing a woman with dementia, inhibition-free, dancing inappropriately. I’ve watched this actress in many things from Bridget Jones to Harry Potter, but nothing prepared me for the strength of her powerful voice belting out the classic Like a Rolling Stone. She was a giant on stage. We saw her leaving the theatre while we waited for a cab, a tiny figure in a black hoodie, unobtrusive in the London night-time drizzle, polar opposite of the colourful character she played on the stage. Pure, unadulterated talent. This play thoroughly deserves its five star reviews!

It was a week of talent, beginning with a night at the London Palladium with Art Garfunkel. I’ve loved Simon and Garfunkel since I was a child.  I have their albums, I know their words, I have a book with their guitar chords, ‘borrowed’ from Mark during the last century, that I’ve been learning for, oh, only around 30 years. How on earth am I going to choose lyrics to end this blog?  It should probably be Bridge over troubled waters, as my dad sang that to me – and this week marked 25 years since he left this world – but Dylan is playing through my mind this morning.

The lyrics to Like a Rolling Stone are hard and jolting, confrontational. I’d never listened properly to the verses before but the song’s about a homeless woman who’s fallen from a life of grace.  I wonder who inspired it. I recently gave a homeless girl money for a night’s shelter in a hostel. She started telling me her story but I was late for a meeting and only spent a couple of minutes walking with her. I felt guilty later that day when I spent a small fortune on a new dress, an impulse buy, the cost of which could have given her a fortnight’s stay in the hostel.

I’m often cynical about homelessness and prefer to buy someone a sandwich than give them money in case it’s wasted on drugs or gambling. But who am I to judge? It constantly bemuses me that homelessness can even be an issue still in this day and age, in a relatively prosperous society. Sometimes I’m simply lost for words.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingOn a lighter note – but somewhat related as it involves a bunch of people losing their home at short notice – this week was our last art class for a while. Ed and his housemates have been evicted from the quirky property that we all called our home on Wednesday evenings, but which was really his home. The spacious room above a pub was filled with fairy lights, vintage furniture, objet d’art and, for some time, a sex swing… It was interesting, it was fun and, for me, it was a very convenient 15-minute drive door-to-door.  If you know of any premises in east London that could house a weekly group of around 30 artists – some aspiring, some professional and most just incredibly awesome, please let me know. Likewise, if you know of premises where they could actually live, that would be useful too.

In the meantime my creative outlet will have to be filled by writing poetry again. I haven’t written anything for a while but I’ll be exhibiting this autumn as part of an art show to celebrate the life of Anne Frank and raise awareness of persecution and discrimination worldwide. So I’d better dust off my poetry hat and get writing.

Good grief – Bridge over troubled water is also about someone becoming homeless! This seems to be a theme for starting the week. I’ll be leaving my nice, warm home shortly for a networking lunch at Chancery Lane – I’ll take a packed lunch with me today to give to the homeless guy who shelters in the subway at Gants Hill station. It’s not much, but it’s going to be on my mind otherwise.

Art Garfunkel said, ‘Your time has come to shine; all your dreams are on their way. See how they shine if you need a friend… I’m sailing right behind.’ That’s more positive anyway. I’m behind – or in front. Or here, at your fingertips: @WeekendWitch.

Passenger Casanova, being a mother-in-law and getting my bum wet

My son Ben’s engagement has been quite a turning point. He’s all grown up! When Oli graduated I realised that no longer having children in education kind of, somehow, put me in a higher age bracket. Now, just two weeks later, I have an engaged son and future daughter-in-law.  I can no longer lie about my age. I will soon be that dreaded being: the mother-in-law!

(Actually, hopefully not dreaded. I have always got on really well with my mothers-in-law and boyfriends’ mums; one ex-boyfriend’s mum still sends me Christmas cards – 30 years later!)

20106372_10155570239851255_3028934993373906103_nAnyway, it was such a lovely day. Ben and Hayley looked radiantly happy, and it was so wonderful to see them surrounded by friends and family. I would like to officially welcome Hayley into our family, but they’ve been together for eight years, so she is already a firm fixture and much loved member of the ‘team.’

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Big shout out to the incredible band who kept 150 people entertained throughout the afternoon and evening: Passenger Casanova. These guys are totally awesome! They were Oli’s friends from school so I’ve known (most of) them since they were 11 years old and pounding the drums on Guitar Hero in my house on Friday afternoons. Now they’re 22 and close friends of both Oli and Ben, and they play the instruments for real. And they play them amazingly well.

20108177_10155570461356255_7332521067663938609_nThis band does not do cover versions – they write their own material then perform it in clubs around London. But for the engagement party they agreed to do a full set of covers – including 70s and 80s dance music and classics such as Everybody wants to rule the world. They learned the music and lyrics, rehearsed hard and were absolutely perfect. The sun shone and people danced and they helped to create a wonderful atmosphere for a such a happy occasion.  Thank you Mandeep, Saif, Tom, Jack and Ryan!

150 people in my house was always likely to be somewhat stressful, yet everything went smoothly, all things considered.  But to counteract any potential stress, Philip took me to a fabulous hotel the next day for a night of luxury. Cream tea, meandering through beautiful gardens, scrumptious dinner and a swim and sauna – very relaxing.  Then… followed by a day of sailing at Rutland Water. I can tell you that in the past, this has not been relaxing. It’s been the opposite of relaxing.

I don’t sail. Correction, I didn’t sail. I liked sales. I still like sales; now I also like sails.  Captain Philip thoughtfully booked a lesson to teach me the basics – the original idea being more about me being able to sail close to the wind as he hardened up…

20197122_10155580021966255_199247935_nThe day turned out to be such fun for both of us.  I can now ease the sails windward and trim the sails leeward. I can adjust the jib to come about and release the spinnaker from its waterproof sheath.  I can get into the boat without getting my bum wet and, most importantly, I can set the sails to ‘picnic position’ – the reason being self-explanatory. Ben-the-fantastic-tutor from Rutland Sailing Club explained that the secure bag is a very useful vessel for storing ice and a nice bottle of prosecco… (I highly recommend Ben if you fancy learning to sail too.)

Although I own a very tight-fitting (to the point of strangulation) wetsuit, I don’t have matching shoes. A kind lady in the changing room lent me hers. I’d never met her before and may never see her again, yet she took off her waterproof boots and passed them over to me with a smile. How many people would so readily hand over their own clothing to a complete stranger? Not even sure I would. She was really lovely!

Roland Orzabal and friends put these words in Passenger Casanova’s mouths on Sunday and I agree with them.  “Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure, nothing ever lasts forever, everybody wants to rule the world.”

Rule it, sail it, do business via social media with it.  The world’s a smaller place than it used to be, If you’d like help to target new clients on the other side, give me a call and we can chat about a meaningful social media strategy. Or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

(PS – (I’m laughing as I read that back! All real sailing terms!! )

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Princess dresses, Bat out of Hell and feline mental health issues

I’ve skipped a couple of weeks of blog writing. Only for me – my clients’ blogs are still all on time, of course.  I tell myself no one will notice if I miss a week, which is the opposite of my professional advice to everyone else! And naturally people do notice, and I get emails asking if I’m alright, which is really nice, and very kind.  I’m absolutely fine, thank you; busy nursing the new kitten I mentioned last time… who, it turns out, suffers from mental health issues!

Charlie’s incredibly sweet, but self-harming. It’s very sad. He gets so distressed when he’s alone that he pulls out his fur in clumps and make the skin sore and blistered. The vet’s given antiseptic wash, antibiotic cream and a very expensive pheromone diffuser to calm him down. It certainly didn’t make me feel calm when I got the bill. C’est la vie!

The heatwave that’s engulfed us over the past couple of weeks has made me feel like I’m on holiday. I can’t deny that I get less done when the sun’s scorching, and I’ve had some super days out when I should have been working.

Gill and I had a wonderful day at Kensington Palace to celebrate her birthday. Princess Diana’s dress collection currently on exhibition there is a nostalgic trip through the 80s – the time when I worked in fashion buying.  I remember well the design and creative teams scurrying around each time Diana appeared with a new look. I’d be on the phone to milliners, jewellery suppliers and belt manufacturers before she’d stepped out of the limousine. I never met Diana, although I met Prince William after her death; I think I’d have liked her though. She shared a birthday with Gill, so undoubtedly they would have shared some personality characteristics. I’d have happily shared her dresses.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThe elegance was contrasted in polar fashion after dinner when we sang along at Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell: the Meatloaf show at the London Coliseum. This is one of my top two albums of all time, so I knew I was going to enjoy the music – but the whole show was stunning! Fabulous sets, brilliant choreography and amazing, well, everything. I think Diana would have enjoyed it too!

Other fun in the sun included the Hadley Wood Jazz Festival (my boyfriend makes a superb picnic; it’s worth dating him just for that).  Also Gay Pride (we missed the carnival because of the vet’s visit but what we caught was entertaining) and a number of lunches/dinners/Pimms in the sunshine with not enough sun cream and a little too much of my home-made insect repellent.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingBut the highlight of the summer so far was, without a doubt, my son Oli’s graduation from Cambridge with a BSc and MSc in something chemistry-related. From the ancient ceremony in Senate House, conducted completely in Latin, to the BBQ on the college lawn, with more Pimms, champagne and a good deal of delicious food – the day was perfect.  I couldn’t have been prouder and, if you follow me on Facebook you may have seen a selection of photos drizzled throughout the day.

He needs to find a job now, so if anyone reading this needs a molecular quantum mechanic – or just a Cambridge graduate who is incredibly smart and funny, please get in touch.

As the main man says; “Oh, baby you’re the only thing in this whole world that’s pure and good and right. And wherever you are and wherever you go, there’s always gonna be some light.”

If you’d like to lighten up your social media, spice it up or crank it up – give me a call, email or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Being catty, signing contracts and something bizarre

If you’ve been feeling hot this week, spare a thought for me.  I adopted an eight month old kitten at the weekend and had to sign a contract with the cat sanctuary that I won’t have windows or doors open for four weeks.  Yes… Four weeks!!

Charlie needs time to settle in properly before being introduced to my garden, with its nest of pretty (but spiteful) robins and an influx of neighbourhood cats. I think they remember that my old cat flap was broken and allowed them in to sneakily grab food that wasn’t theirs.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThe cat sanctuary in Waltham Abbey was amazing, but heartbreaking. I would have taken more cats but my circumstances don’t allow it right now. An allergic boyfriend and future daughter-in-law means that I’m limited to hypo-allergenic breeds, so it was lucky that Charlie popped up.

It was interesting that I had to sign a contract. It had all sorts of stipulations, some enforceable, others less so. It reminded me that the lawyer who kindly drew up new contracts for me a couple of months ago is probably getting frustrated that I haven’t implemented them yet.

I will do.  Up until now I have provided social media services following discussions with the clients and ongoing reviews. I have never tied anyone in to a minimum service period, although I always explain that you need to allow at least a year to show return on investment. Some people just want a six-month push to get them up and running, and that’s fine.

I saw various contracts of historical importance last week at the Churchill War Rooms. It’s a fantastic museum that I’d never heard of until last year; the underground bunker where the cabinet operated during the war. Hundreds of people lived and worked there, just metres below the city, in a capsule world that no-one else knew existed. Decisions were made, strategies were implemented and a small cat wandered the halls waiting for Churchill to tickle his tummy.

One exceptional airman that fought in the war that Churchill led is Air Commodore Charles Clarke OBE.  I’ve written about this delightful man before (flying-in-a-spitfire-the-finest-banquet-in-london-and-ladies-in-not-many-clothes/) and was so pleased to see him again last week at a reception held at the Ministry of Defence. We were launching the 2018 Soldiering On Awards to recognise outstanding and inspirational members of the military family. Air Commodore Clarke has won one, as have many incredible people – and animals! (No cats yet, though.)

Aside from politics and military leadership, Churchill was a wonderful artist and writer.  One of his best quotes (in my opinion) is: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Charles Clarke was going through hell when he was shot down and captured by the enemy. He was one of the brave men portrayed in The Great Escape who battled his way to freedom. Another Churchill quote that’s appropriate for then and now is, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

It sure is. If you know of anyone who deserves recognition, please consider nominating them for one of these prestigious awards.  Nominations open shortly – you can check out the categories here.

Determined to find a military-themed song more cheerful than Billy don’t be a hero (which Sharon and I sang repeatedly throughout our childhood), I googled and this came up in Spinditty’s songs about soldiers and veterans: 8th of November by Big and Rich.  It’s the true story of Niles Harris, a 19-year-old boy from Deadwood, South Dakota, who hugged his mother goodbye as he left home for the army to fight in the Vietnam War. Just a few months later, on November 8, 1965, he encountered an epic battle in which 48 of his fellow soldiers died. Niles was injured, but fortunately survived.

The reason this touched me is that 8th November is my birthday! Touching. bizarre and more than a teeny bit creepy. Do you have a song about the day you were born? Even if you’re not a fan of country music, the video is worth watching. The lyrics aren’t overly cheerful, so I’ll simply quote… “Saw the eagle fly through a clear blue sky; 1965, the eighth of November.”

Creeped me out, but on the plus side there’s no excuse for you not wishing me happy birthday this year, haha! You can do that here: @WeekendWitch.

Networking fun, bargain books and grabbing a man where I shouldn’t (again!)

Having skipped most of my networking invitations over the past few months due to work commitments, holidays and funerals (my 101-year-old auntie!), I’m making up for lost time.

As you’ll know if you run a business, online social networking is brilliant for 101 reasons, but social media should be part of your wider marketing strategy. It’s also important to get out there in the real world and connect with people who you might like to do business with.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingSo, in the past fortnight I’ve been to four events and met some fabulous people. Of course, Networking’s not just about making new contacts. It’s about building relationships with people you already know, learning more about each other so you can recommend potential clients and remembering names and faces so they spring to mind when someone asks if you know a good accountant, designer, event planner, lawyer – or social media management company!!

Wednesday night’s barbecue overlooking the Olympic Park, high on a hotel terrace with sizzling meats, delicious salad and an abundance of bite-sized cakes, is one of my favourite business events of the year. Run by the Newham Chamber of Commerce, which is far more dynamic than it sounds, it’s more of a party than a business event. I knew loads of people, met some more that I’m sure I’ll see again and was, as ever, greedy with the chocolate brownies.

This was the scene of (one of) my most embarrassing network fails. That night five years ago when my pink suede stiletto slipped cleanly through the gap in the decking, causing me to reach out as I tumbled forward…. grabbing the closest thing to hand in order to break my fall. I grabbed hard. And the closest thing was a man.  Or rather, part of a man. A rather red-faced man!! You can imagine what I grabbed…!!

This story was recounted several times during the evening, including by people who had actually witnessed it, proving that you definitely can attend a networking event and be memorable without even trying!!

Another lovely event was Andrew Segal’s lunch in Richmond. As the sun beamed down on the sparkling river outside, we listened to Royal artist-in-residence Jeremy Houghton  talk about his incredible artworks for clients including the Queen, Aston Martin and Wimbledon. I admire such talent, especially when it goes hand in hand with a warm and engaging personality. Andrew’s latest book, Beads of Blood, is available on Amazon – you can pick up your bargain copy this week for only 99p!

The thing with a lunch or formal dinner is that you get to know the people around you quite well, but must make an effort to chat to others sitting further away, either before you sit down or after coffee. At the Hofburg Palace in Vienna last week, I learned that 18th century dinner guests were only allowed to speak to the people sitting directly on either side of them. No shouting across the table, talking over someone else or hand waving in front of your neighbour’s face. Not that people generally do that at the lovely dinners I’m invited to. But imagine if you were stuck next to two incredibly boring people and simply not allowed to talk to anyone else! A good case for musical chairs.

…Which leads me nicely into Saturday night’s excellent Sing Song Club at my local pub – the Chequers. The event was quickly thrown together as a fundraiser for the tragic Grenfell Tower victims, so it was, in a way, sadly oxymoronic that we had such fun. The band played with karaoke-style wording displayed on a giant screen, but with the clever addition of chords, so musicians in the audience could join in while the rest of us shook home-made percussion instruments and much-loved tambourines. We sang, danced and drank large glasses of Pimms.

The song that immediately sprang to mind for today’s blog was Don’t look back in anger, as we all sang along to that quite rowdily on Saturday, with Sue commandeering the mic and walloping out a tune. But actually, the lyrics aren’t at all appropriate for the severity and nature of the tragedy, so – instead – I’m not quoting anything. I’m just sending love, sympathy and hope to the victims and their families. So much has already been said, there’s nothing new to say. Let’s simply raise a glass, Pimms or otherwise, to a stronger, safer, healthier future for this shocking world, and hope and pray for the positivity needed to get England out of these dark times and back on track.

Women in the spotlight, a medieval wedding and finding your business

I’ve been to my first Slovakian wedding this week, in a medieval castle that retains a Roman inscription in its cliff-face.  It was beautiful. The castle provided a perfect setting for the ‘ceremony of love’ – no religion, no officiality, no formality, just romantic poetry and friends giving readings about the couple’s life together.

I didn’t know them; I was a plus-one. I know them now, obviously, and met some other cool people, including a Bolivian musician and a guy who completed a triathlon in a banana hammock.  We were treated to photos and a full description…

Trencin Castle is a couple of hours’ drive from anywhere, so we flew into Vienna and spent two days exploring the Romanesque city before heading to Slovakia.  I loved Vienna – as you can imagine, not least for its abundance of tea houses with their chocolate delicacies, squelching apple strudel, chocolate mousses, squidgy plum strudel, chocolate tortes and squishy other things that I generally ignore in favour of chocolate.

As with any major city, we were accosted within ten minutes by a street vendor, offering tickets to a classical concert by the Mozart Orchestra in the Konzerthaus. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love most kinds of live music, and I like dressing up – although we went in summer clothes and did not wear the regency dress and traditional wigs of that period, unlike the performers who looked authentic and sounded wonderful.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIt’s such a stylish, decadent city, it was a pleasure just walking the streets or relaxing in the cafés watching the world go by. In the cultural quarter, we collapsed onto street beds – large lime-green coloured weatherproof loungers where we knocked back frozen yoghurt with fruits and chocolate sauce in between lunch and afternoon tea. These beds provided an eclectic contrast to the baroque architecture surrounding us, which didn’t matter as we closed our eyes in the sweltering sunshine.

The palaces we visited were elegance personified.  In the Schönbrunn Palace we muddled through the confusing family tree. I understand it better now that I’m back in London and googling… The men all blurred into one, so I focused on two of the women: Elizabeth, who became the wife of her first cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph I – an arranged marriage that took place when she was 16 and, while he adored her, she hated him. She spent her unhappy life in the spotlight, a beautiful woman travelling, socialising and dieting until being murdered on a trip to Geneva.  A sad story with many parallels to our own Diana.  Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dynasty – a woman with 11 daughters, only one of whom was allowed to marry for love – just like the couple in Slovakia!

One of their 21st century wedding guests, who was also visiting Vienna, checked out the wedding party’s hotel address on Google, determinedly thumping the coordinates into his satnav despite his girlfriend commenting that it seemed to be a different address to the email confirmation. After two hours of driving in an apparently wrong direction, both believing this to be TomTom’s clever means of rerouting to bypass traffic jams, he ended up in a Slovakian field, 150 miles south west of his hoped-for destination!

The lessons here are: a.) if you run a business that relies on people finding you, it is imperative that your online address is as clear as the crystals suspended from the chandeliers at the Schönbrunn Palace. Head offices at a different location, warehouses, showrooms etc should be clearly defined so there can be no confusion.  Check your markers on Google’s mapping systems. And b.) sometimes it’s worth listening to your girlfriend.

It seems too obvious to quote Midge Ure’s lyrics, and anyway, that’s a depressing song, far removed from the bright, happy trip I’ve just had.  But it’s late and my brain is still in holiday mode… “The music is weaving. Haunting notes, pizzicato strings – the rhythm is calling.”  Rhythm was certainly calling all week, so that’s appropriate anyway. From the classical concert to the two amazing bands who played in that stunning location on a craggy cliff, halfway below the historic castle walls and above the ancient town.

We danced, we laughed, we drank various local nail-polish-removing-type brews. Now we’re back at work and I’m helping my clients to make sure their businesses are visible online in all the right places. If you’d like to be more easily found, give me a call, drop me an email or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Sad songs, happy days and so you win again

It’s always a pleasure to write a winning award application, as the clients I work with are awesome and I totally believe in the services they provide. So I can write from the heart, with passion and, of course, knowledge.

18485663_10208699780441789_90201385747404553_nNordens, the fabulous accountancy firm that I always recommend, won yet another gong this week: ICAEW’s Accountancy Firm of the Year (Essex). It’s the Chartered Institute of Accountants for England and Wales, so it’s a pretty big deal.  They’ve won it before, along with various other prestigious accolades, including the British Accountancy Awards Practice of the Year for London.

I joined the team for a black-tie dinner at Stock Brook Manor Country Club. There was no dancing, but a lot of champagne and surprisingly delicious pork belly – which I’ve always steered well clear of, but my son highly recommends – so I tried it, and now I’m a convert.

18556413_1460548417342827_1240640762771653331_nWe spent the following day on a trip to Ramsgate, a small Victorian seaside town in Kent. Another lovely meal followed our walk along the beach (with brollies). Again, there was no dancing, although I was one of the first up for the coach karaoke on the way back to London. Sharon and I have a long history of duets, so we sang a couple of ‘popular numbers’ together – not our usual repertoire of 1970’s cheerful hits: Billy, don’t be a hero and Seasons in the sun. (For some reason we always sang really sad songs about people dying!!?!)

Back at the office, Nordens have displayed their latest trophy along with their many other shiny, crystal awards. I don’t have an awards table in my own office. My recent CEO of the Year Award sits alongside my Inspirational Woman trophy on a bookcase filled with art books. My collection of social media and business books are nestled onto a shelf on another bookcase (you can get some of the them here) next to trusty dictionaries and thesauruses that were staple tools of my Plain English Business Writing before the Internet made everything available without the need to reach out even a glossily painted fingertip to grab a book.

IMG_0597The bookcases overlook a garden that’s disgracefully full of weeds. I’m slowly cultivating a beautiful outdoor space but it takes time. I’d really prefer a garden like the one I visited yesterday at Ayot St Lawrence’s Manor House. The Tudor property is my dream home, set in my dream garden – complete with azure pool (now I can swim!), tennis court (it’s been a long time), an orchard, vegetable gardens and the most exquisite displays of flowers all around.

When I got home I googled to find out who lives in such a glorious home.  Such a small world – the first people I spoke to about the garden said, “Oh yes, they’re our friends. They used to live next door!” Now, I’m not normally an envious person, and I don’t hashtag anything unless it’s in the appropriate place (Twitter, where relevant and useful, and Instagram, where expected) – however, just for today… #jealous.

This is the Terry Jacks song I was talking about earlier; please note that I didn’t choose the lyrics ‘too much wine and too much song’ even though they are probably more appropriate this week! “You gave me love and helped me find the sun., and every time that I was down you would always come around, and get my feet back on the ground.”

I can help you get your business feet on the ground, if that’s what you need – or I can help you spread your wings and fly. Without social media, who knows you’re there? (Are you there??) I’m here: @WeekendWitch.

 

Seasons in the sun: Writer: Brel, JR, Copyright: Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Carlin America Inc.

No social media strategy, pushing boundaries and taking a giant leap

The Isle of Mull is a beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. In fact, beautiful is an understatement.  I’ve been to various Caribbean islands with foamy waves atop azure seas, and walked the rugged Cornish coastline in all weathers, yet the pure, unspoilt loveliness of Mull is unrivalled.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingMarion and I spent last weekend there – supposedly to work on client social media strategies, but, in reality, to clear our minds (without being overly-mindful), eat fresh seafood and meet interesting people over a glass (or two) of red wine.

We trekked through hilltop forests filled with giant rhododendron bushes and stunning waterfalls, drove across vast areas of prehistoric landscape and stepped carefully across ancient white beaches that make the Bahamas seem dull – teeming with birds that she can identify and I had to squint to see.

One of the most impressive people we met was a young woman working in the castle giftshop. She and her new husband gave up high pressured jobs in London to buy a motorhome, and they travel around the country stopping wherever they fancy. They’re in Mull for the summer, as they love its beauty and calmness – although that may change once the influx of tourists hits in high season. They’ve pitched up in someone’s garden and live a simple life – working at the castle while enjoying a life that’s free from reliance on possessions and material goods.

Talk about a leap and a half. It was a brave and bold move, but the opportunity arose and they grabbed it with twenty fingers. I admire that. (You’re also brave if you’re running a business without a social media strategy! Maybe not so bold though…)

Back in London, I spent an afternoon at the Tate Modern, catching up with an old friend for lunch then laughing together at Wolfgang Tillman’s photographic exhibition.  I have to admit that it wasn’t my favourite art display, although kudos to him for achieving a glittering career that has led him to one of the foremost galleries in the world. The contemporary works are described as an exhibition that “pushes the boundaries.” Hmmm…

Another cultural event this week also almost pushed boundaries…. A trip to the theatre to see The Girls, Gary Barlow’s musical based on the Calendar Girls’ story: the WI ladies who stripped naked for a charity calendar. It was quite enjoyable, although a bunch of 60-something women stripping off on stage is a bit ‘different.’ That story was fantastic though – the real one, I mean. Eleven members of the Women’s Institute who normally displayed flowers, cakes and pots of home-made jam, getting their kits off to raise money.  It worked – they have successfully raised over £5million for leukaemia research!

I was almost tempted to end this blog with ‘Calendar Girl’ lyrics, and I’m pretty sure as I flicked through the Evening Standard last week it said Neil Sedaka is doing another concert – but no. It’s too much. Anyway, many people seem to think the following lyrics were written about The Isle of Mull, but they weren’t.  They were written about another (apparently) gorgeous place, by Paul McCartney (the one Gill and I met, but that’s another story in another blog).

“Smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain still take me back where my memories remain. Flickering embers go higher and higher.” If your business is a bit of a flickering ember and you’d like to fan the flame, give me a call to chat about how social media marketing can help. Or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

PS I know someone will email me to say it’s 16 fingers and four thumbs!

LinkedIn testimonials, aerodynamics and making a smash

I’m learning to swim! You may be shocked at this admission, but it’s true.  Some of my friends – mainly Gill and Mark, who have both rescued me from the sea in summers gone by, will be relieved. I made this decision on the spur of the moment, then two years later Sue called to recommend her friend David, a one-to-one teacher who gets in the water and stops your hips from sinking – even if you have just eaten a whole bag of Selfridges’ macarons.

I could kind-of swim a bit. I mean I could get across the width of a pool flapping gracelessly and with about as much technique as a handbag. So, my first lesson was a success. I floated aerodynamically, blew bubbles underwater, then performed a rudimentary kind of backstroke. David seemed pleased. I certainly was.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI learned my kind-of swimming in Florida when I was 15. Terrified of getting my face splashed, my cousin Harry taught me to close my eyes, put my face in the water and float like Marina. (Gerry Anderson’s marionette.  Possibly a subconscious purchase, I do have a very similar dress to hers: aquamarine, beaded and floaty. But then I also have a Star Trek uniform like Marina Sirtis, and I don’t much fancy the idea of intergalactic flight.) Anyway, that’s how I did it for the next 10 or so years, until I forgot and reverted to panicky sploshing around.

Dating a Masters swimmer and boat-owner changed all that. Last year, on a particularly wet and dismal afternoon at Rutland Water, muscles aching from clenching in fear and fingernails ragged as they smashed against the mast, I was convinced I was going to die. As the boat tipped 44 degrees and I prepared to make a splash, I became determined to conquer my fear of water.  Really, as any good Scorpion should!

Last week I was wined and dined on the 32nd floor of Canary Wharf.  Actually, that sentence borders on exaggeration and artistic licence; no red wine, I was driving later, But he drank Beaujolais, so that counts. We were discussing social media training sessions and the popularity of LinkedIn training.  I love working with business owners on a one-to-one basis to create outstanding profiles and show them how to maximise the benefits of LinkedIn for business.

The views are always great from Canary Wharf, and this time we had the added bonus of window cleaners rising up before us as they haphazardly wiped their cloths across the reinforced glass. That’s not a job for someone who doesn’t like heights. It confirmed my earlier assertion that I’m better in the water than I would be in the sky.

I can’t think of any songs about swimming, so in my mind I’ve been sifting through the many songs I know about boats. Although being terrified and getting soaked and frozen to the bone may be fun, I do love lazing about with a picnic watching them elegantly glide by. So Otis Redding’s lyrics may be more in keeping. “Sitting in the morning sun, I’ll be sitting when the evening’s done. Watching the ships roll in, then I’ll watch ‘em roll away again.”  And at least if I fall off the dock, I will be able to backstroke smoothly to shore.

I don’t know if my swimming teacher is on LinkedIn, but his website is full of excellent testimonials.  I’ve worked with so many people who are reluctant, scared or shy to ask for a testimonial, but it’s so incredibly important in these days of customers’ preoccupation with online reviews. If you’d like a ten minute chat to boost your confidence with regard to LinkedIn testimonials, give me a call on 020 8551 7077, or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Portrait painting, traditional dining and a night at the ballet. (A contemporary cultured week!)

Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who got in touch regarding my CEO of the Year award.  I really appreciated the emails, messages on social media and texts from friends. It was lovely of you, and I hope I’ve replied to everyone.

I’m back at art class in fits and starts this term.  Well, not term as it’s not a school; the studio is a trendy communal living space above a pub, twinkling with fairy lights, interesting with strange and unusual objet d’art and lively with a bunny hopping about. But anyway, since Ed got back from his travels I’ve had various things on a Wednesday to prevent me going.  This week Jon is over from San Diego so I’ll be missing my creative fix again.

To avoid artistic withdrawal, I’m going to the final heat of the Portrait Artist of the Year competition on Thursday.  It’s being held at the Wallace Collection, a beautiful little art gallery and museum close to Bond Street. I popped in there last week to see the artists in one of the early heats. The celebrity models sat for four hours in poses that were about as relaxed as you can get for a rigid afternoon, fully clothed (unlike my Wednesday art class) and keeping their eyes fixed zombie-like on a ‘spot in the distance.’

Robert Bathurst sort-of smiled at me though, probably because I was staring. I loved him in Cold Feet – might have hung around to say hello if I’d been on my own and in less of a rush to get home to eat my first Easter egg.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingOn Thursday I pushed the cultural boat across a foaming wave and went to the ballet. Sadler’s Wells is the home of British dance, so I imaged beautiful ballerinas in rose-coloured tutus pirouetting across the stage. I went with someone who has dated several ballerinas in the past, so I think he was hoping for that too.  But it wasn’t.

Matthew Bourne, the choreographer, is a master contemporary storyteller in the ballet genre.  The dancing and portrayals were amusing and (whispers…) a bit strange.  The website described it as “Yearning pas de deuxs and pastoral clog-dances feature in Town and Country’s post-war vignettes.” And, “Take a trip to Gay Paree with The Infernal Galop, as all the glorious clichés of 30s and 40s Paris are paraded (and can-canned) across the stage.” It was fun.  It was different, but it didn’t make me want to put on my pastel pink silk ballet shoes – although I did actually wear them yesterday for driving (as flip flops are dangerous) so maybe that was a subconscious fashion choice.

The ‘town and country’ sketches featured people dressed as cows (at least, I think they were cows!).  This image links nicely to Saturday night’s dinner at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. It owns its own farm where meat is cultivated for diners’ enjoyment, and we wolfed our way through an enormous roast beef platter – finished on Sunday by a friendly dog named Digby who absolutely refused to give up his cordon bleu bone.

I do love a bit of history, and Rules’ traditional dining rooms are decorated much as they would have been back in 1798. Throughout its 220-year heritage, the tables here have been crowded with writers, artists and actors. Charles Dickens and H G Wells were regulars, and no doubt a ballet dancer or two.  Maybe even Robert Bathhurst, but that’s just a guess.

I visited Elton John’s photography collection recently at the Tate Modern.  It’s a cool, inspired assembly of classic modernist work that he’s amassed over the past few decades.  I’m just mentioning this because I could only think of Abba’s song about Nina Pretty Ballerina this morning, so I googled – and Elton popped up.  I’d forgotten this song, but it’s quite lovely. “Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man. Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand.”

Tiny dancer, short week, long Pimms. Enjoy your Easter, Passover, long weekend – and keep in touch: @WeekendWitch.