Renee

Three awards, a pool party and strawberry daiquiris in the purple rain

One of the best things about my job is sharing in celebrations with happy clients!  So Thursday night’s award ceremony for Nordens was quite amazing.  Where most accountants are still stereotyped as boring number-crunchers with grey suits and sensible shoes, the team at Nordens are such fun.  It’s a dynamic firm with a bunch of funny, brilliant people who thoroughly deserve their accolades.

I wrote three award nominations for the company and they waltzed off with… three awards!!  When the first was announced – training firm of the year – Sharon, the practice manager, scooped me up and took me on stage with the team to collect the trophy.  It was tempting to sing; we have karaoked together in the past and our history of Billy, don’t be a hero predates our working relationship!  (Yes, yes, I know karaoke is not a verb, but it should be!)

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThe company has been highly commended repeatedly, and Joe – a very cute accountant – added yet another winner’s trophy to his collection for outstanding young accountant of the year.  (No, I’m not on commission…)  I spent a lot of the evening posting on Facebook and tweeting – that’s what social media’s there for, right?!

We carried on celebrating at the weekend with a fantastic pool party.  Pleased to say I didn’t fall in, even when dancing pretty close to the edge.  Again, no karaoke (to everyone’s relief) but lots of singing along with the band.  It had been a long time since I’d drunk strawberry daiquiris so I was very excited to see the barman whizzing up a pink mush in his blender.  The glass was freezing; quite different to my first one, which I still remember clearly…

I was 15 then, and staying with cousins in Florida.  They ordered my first daiquiri, then my second – and maybe a third, I can’t remember all the details.  But several (!!) years later it remains a drink that brings back precious memories. (Although I’m sure it was creamier back then?)

I haven’t seen those cousins for a while, but the crazy Vegas boy has been in London for a flying visit.  (The cousin I met on facebook.)  We spent the day in Cambridge, eating pasties and clotted cream (not together), finding spooky artworks and wandering through the filtered sunshine.  Surprisingly, he avoided splashing into the water on Saturday night.  He left before I started dancing too, taking his Hawaiian garland and English accent back to America.  (Bye bye Stephen, see you in November!)

The band finished their set with a song that holds lots of memories too (not of underage drinking): “I only wanted one time to see you laughing.  I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.”  Laugh, celebrate, have fun, win things.  Then tell people about it on social media! If you need help with any of this, give me a call.  Or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Suffragettes: The fight the women fought and that chocolate fight

I’m all over the place at the moment!  Cirencester last week, Ealing this week, Staines next week – three or four days at a time, living out a suitcase, surviving on sushi in my hotel room, collecting mini toiletries bottles…  My cat barely recognises me when I get home.

This week I’m back to my roots: training people to write more clearly using plain English.  It’s a bespoke course designed for the business that booked me, and I love people’s reactions when they realise it’s not simply a lesson in English grammar or a telling-off for using jargon.  The training carries on through to next week, but I’ll be heading home on Thursday night in time to cast my vote…

If I’d been born in an earlier century I definitely would have been a suffragette.  And it would have been easy enough to get involved, as the suffragette movement was bolstered from a tiny cottage just a couple of miles from my home.  There are two influential local women that merit a mention during this politically-charged week: Sylvia Pankhurst and Ethel Haslam.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s mum founded the suffragette movement, so she was definitely a lady to be reckoned with.  In those days, this was a quiet, rural area and Sylvia Pankhurst’s arrival, with an anarchist Italian boyfriend in tow, scandalised the neighbours. While setting up the East London Federation of Suffragettes, their home became described as the ‘centre for radical thought.’  And as if that wasn’t enough for the delicate Essex ladies, the couple shocked the community even further when a baby son arrived and still no wedding ring.

Ethel Haslam was probably considered more respectable, holding the responsible position of branch secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Ilford.  With her band of ‘sisters’ she would have campaigned for women’s equality in work and politics, handing out leaflets outside the very station I sometimes use for a fast-track ride into Liverpool Street for networking events.  If we’re connected on LinkedIn, you’ll know that, before running my own business, I worked in recruitment for five years.  The office where I interviewed people and changed their lives is opposite the station in Cranbrook Road; and, it turns out, Ethel Haslam lived in that same road – in a house that is now (to my delight) a cake shop!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingBut the story that interests me most concerns the boating lake in Valentines Park, where I can often be found during the summer, floating along pretending to be the Lady of Shalott.  It seems that Ethel and her comrades were sailing in the centre of the lake, waving a purple banner emblazoned with their motto: ‘Believe and you will conquer!’  Their peaceful protest was disturbed by a gang who began throwing – would you believe it – chocolates, at them!  Don’t think I’d have minded that.  Wonder what year Green & Black’s butterscotch arrived on the London shelves…

Ethel’s purple banner reminds me of The Stroke Association’s purple banners to promote National Stroke Month.  I currently have one as my Facebook cover pic.  They have the less provocative message, ‘Make May Purple,’ but I can’t help thinking that Ethel’s believe and conquer slogan is appropriate there too.

Writing this in my hotel room with a slightly fussy wifi connection, I didn’t want to spend too long thinking about lyrics.  So when these flew into my mind I decided to go with them. “From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cry; from every corner of the land womankind arise!  Political equality and equal rights with men – take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”

Although I’m far away this week, I’ll be home on Thursday to vote.  Wouldn’t dream of missing it after the battle those women fought to give me the right to do so.  In the meantime you can always find me here: @WeekendWitch.  (PS – I’ll be listening to Suffragette City as I drive to the polling booth.)

(Lyrics courtesy of Sherman, Sherman and Drewe.)

Impressive people, Your Business Community and speed-dating (sort of)

Have you ever been speed-dating?  Me neither.  But I attended my first speed-networking this week and I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of thing!  the principle’s the same, anyway.  Forty people sitting in two opposite lines, swapping phone numbers, shuffling along every two minutes and rotating at the end.  Quick, quick, quick.  Hoping there will be someone you can hook-up with.  I mean link-in with.  One minute to listen and pitch is enough if you do it right.  The evening was really good fun.  At times it was hard to hear, concentrate and yoyo along the row through all the loud chatter and laughter, but that added to the challenge.

I met some brilliant people.  The event was arranged by a new organisation called Your Business Community set up by Ted, a man I met a couple of years ago at another networking event.  Ted sought me out that day… he’d been an avid reader of my blog for some time and recognised that we had a fair amount in common.  So he approached me with a conversation about Fleetwood Mac and, I think, something chocolate-related.  Of course I spent the rest of that afternoon with him and we linked-up on LinkedIn and kept in touch afterwards.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThere was no chocolate at this event, although the wine was flowing and the roving buffet was lovely.  I managed to drop a goat’s cheese and caramelised red onion canapé down my silky purple dress – at least not down my bra like that time at the opera – and I definitely handled it more elegantly this time.  Practice makes perfect!

I often meet people that impress me at these events, but I was blown away by one person.  Ben Towers set up a successful web design business five years ago, expanding into logo design and print.  He currently employs 15 people and is looking to continue growing the business this year.  Ben’s success is a remarkable achievement for any start-up, but what’s incredible is that he is only 16 years old.  He started his business when he was a child of 11!!

He gave a fantastic, confident off-the-cuff presentation to the 200 people in the room, telling us the challenges he’s faced setting up.  Web design and printing aside, this young man commanded the room with the skill and charisma of someone twice his age.  Absolutely amazing!!!

So I joined Your Business Community.  Ted gave me a special deal and I signed up there and then.  Don’t often do that, but I liked some of the benefits that go with the membership.  I also liked some of the people I met with their eclectic mix of businesses, ranging from sitcom production to French apprenticeships, and journalistic PR to Fabulous Women.  (Not fabulous women covered in cheese and onion canapés…)

No doubt you’ll be hearing more about the benefits of this networking in the months to come. And as all the FM fans know, “It’s hard to find someone with that kind of intensity; you touched my hand, I played it cool… and you reached out your hand to me…” You can always reach out to me – here I am: @WeekendWitch.

(Thank you for the lyrics, Welsh Witch!)

Heart-warming acts of heroism, bingo and a happy birthday wish

The Soldiering On Through Life Trust Awards is one of my favourite nights of the year.  Which is weird, as it generally involves tears.  A group of deserving ex-military men and women are nominated by various charities to recognise and honour their outstanding achievements, despite having suffered horrible injuries during their service.  Sometimes those achievements are heroic; sometimes they’re simply inspirational and heart-warming.

This was my third year celebrating the awards and it just gets better each year.  I work with an amazing team that organises and delivers a perfect function and we’ve become somewhat of an extended family.  I had no previous military ties, so my work here has been an eye-opener in so many ways.

Biggins and me in days gone by...

Biggins and me in days gone by…

The evening at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel is always glitzy.  Celebrities present the awards and dance the night away – well the part from 11pm onwards anyway.  It was my idea to invite Christopher Biggins to co-present with Anne Diamond this year – one of my (rare?) good ideas that the team snapped up.  I’d seen him perform at last year’s Life after Stroke Awards – another charity close to my heart.  He’s a lovely man – what you see is what you get.  It’s a quality I really like in people.  Many of the award-winners share it too; after everything they’ve been through they have no time for pretence.

Antony Costa headlined the entertainment – and he was great!  The dancefloor was packed during his whole set. I didn’t remember that he and Blue sang ‘One Love’ so I was hugely excited to be able to sing along.   That’s what comes of attending a Taittinger champagne reception – a verging-on-drunken-dancefloor-karaoke!  That reception was extra special for me too, as Oliver performed magic there to a crowd of 500.

But celebrities aside, the stars of the evening were the amazing award winners, who blew everyone away with their incredible stories of courage and inspiration.  I spent my time during the ceremony tweeting their photos and posting onto Facebook as they proudly accepted their trophies.  If you’re interested, you can see their videos here.  Spare ten minutes for them if you can; grab a coffee and a tissue and get comfortable.

Sharon and me in days gone by...

Sharon and me in days gone by…

I spent Sunday night at a charity event too – albeit on a smaller scale and without the razzamatazz!  It was bingo!!  I attended that one with my cousin Sharon so it was just as much fun. And I won a fiver!  Sharon and I grew up being the slowest eaters in the room (and made no exception on Sunday) – but we were both pretty quick when faced with chocolate.  One of our enduring shared memories is a family road trip where we spent six hours eating sugar sandwiches and singing Seasons in the Sun. I’m lucky to have found a friend who can play that on the guitar, so we’re looking forward to an opportunity to do that again.  Possibly at a party we’re both invited to next month…

Marion and me in days gone by...

Marion and me in days gone by…

While I was doing my stuff on Sunday, Marion, my lovely social media assistant, was celebrating her birthday.  So I’m taking this opportunity to say happy birthday and thank you so much for all your hard work! You do a fab job and it’s greatly appreciated!! When Sharon and I get that guitar we will happily serenade you with a rendition of Terry Jacks – or maybe something a little more cheerful.  Julia and Co, probably.

As tempting as it is to end with Terry Jacks’ lyrics, the awesome people I met on Saturday night are too inspiring for a dreary song.  These words by Heather Small and Peter Vettese are far more appropriate: ‘I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending.  I’m on my way, can’t stop me now and you can do the same!  What have you done today to make you feel proud?  It’s never too late to try – what have you done today to make you feel proud?  If you’ve done something that makes you proud, tell me here – I’m always happy to share: @WeekendWitch.

Facebook friends, Viking women and a nice lump of cheese

Facebook has brought together so many friends, relatives, ex-colleagues and ex-lovers that’s it’s a veritable forum for matchmaking in one way or another.  Sometimes good, not always.  One lovely connection for me has been making friends with Martine.  We went to school and youth club together but didn’t know each other well, although we shared a large circle of friends.  Martine moved to Israel when we were 19, so I never saw or heard anything from her or about her.  And there our association would have ended, were it not for social media!

Martine was one of the first people to comment on this blog.  Starting out in my early days with no idea what people might be interested in, she offered me positive feedback and motivation – especially with the song lyrics!  When I considered dropping them she emailed in indignation that she loved guessing the song each week.  So the lyrics stayed.

Martine visited London last week for the first time in ages.  I met up with her and Lisa for lunch in the park we frequented during our high school years when we were supposed to be in science lessons.  The helter-skelter’s no longer there – although I’m sure we’d have whizzed down if it were – none of us are that sophisticated that we’d have turned down a re-run of our teenage years.

So Martine has followed this blog consistently for three years.  During that time I’ve developed various social media training sessions, including – of course – one on blogging.  It’s actually content marketing, which covers blogs, emails, web pages and social media posts.  I ran this very session on Thursday at Thurrock Council in Essex, meeting some amazing business owners.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAlways pleased to connect with other ‘witches,’ The Wire Witch had come along to learn how to present information to showcase her fabulous Viking-inspired jewellery range.  Using traditional techniques, she painstakingly weaves chain mail into gorgeous necklaces and bracelets in exactly the same way women would have done a thousand years ago.

The attendees also included a new cheesemaker, dipping his toe into the churn for the first time.  (Not literally – that would not be a good cheese!)  It gave me a hankering for a nice lump of Cornish brie though.

And speaking of all things Cornish, it was wonderful to catch up with my Cornish niece and nephew on Saturday night.  I don’t see them enough.  Really, they’re not Cornish – although they’ve lived in the Duchy for 15 years.  We manage to keep on top of each other’s lives on Facebook, so it’s rare to miss anything important.

Aside from the social benefits of Facebook, it’s such a popular business tool – which is why I’m delighted to work with a packed room every time I run a social media session.  I’m looking forward to reading the various blogs from Thursday’s delegates – Viking jewellery, cheese, physio, interior design, investments, embroidery, the care sector and so many more.

To sign off today, I Googled songsImaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywriting about cheese.  An album popped up called ‘The Ultimate Cheese Party’ – I guess it’s named as such because people at parties eat cheese…  Anyway, it’s a brilliant CD full of dance and party tracks – and seeing the cover jogged my memory that I have this CD!  I borrowed it from Gill around 15 years ago.  Hopefully she won’t read today’s blog so I can keep it for a few decades more…

This song is on the album – Gill, Martine, Lisa – we all danced to this – no prizes for guessing!!  ‘Toora loora toora loo rye ay; and we can sing just like our fathers.’  If you stop dancing for long enough and want to find out more about content marketing, you can ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

The mentalist, the musician and the goddess of Easter

This year, I’d planned an Easter break around my heavy workload, with a mixture of lovely lazing around, eating many hot cross buns and catching up with friends.  The highlight was a Saturday night spent at Arch 1, a teeny-tiny, atmospheric club created under a railway arch somewhere in Docklands.

As Stella, the beautiful drag queen hostess, announced the acts, I would have clapped loudly – only I couldn’t, as I was carefully balancing my iPad ready to film the mentalist and comedy guitarist due on stage: my talented sons!! I rarely mention the boys in this blog, but WOW was I proud!!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingOli’s mentalist act is a cross between mind reading and magic. It was his very first public show and his charm and charisma took him through his set with cheers and awe from the audience.

 

Ben never fails to getImaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywriting the room laughing and singing, and his rude signature tune always goes down a storm!  I’m going to set up a Facebook page for him soon – what better way to promote upcoming gigs to his friends and tell them about special offers?

Following a pit stop for salmon and cream cheese beigals at Brick Lane, I rolled into bed at almost 3am.  Easy to forget that my alarm was set for a ridiculously early Sunday start in order to roast a rather large lump of beef in a nice Shiraz.  My Twitter friend (and now, real life one!) Robert Puzey was due for Easter lunch.

I’ve mentioned Robert before – the fabulous songwriter who penned the Nolans’ hits.   Preparing roasted root vegetables to the tune of I’m in the mood for dancing always brings fun to the more mundane cooking tasks that I generally dislike.  But on this occasion, with The Nolans on Spotify, Shiraz keeping me company and a Lindt bunny slowly disappearing, all was happy in my seasonal kitchen.

Robert grew up in Barnardo’s, the children’s home that is within walking distance of my house.  His forthcoming book relates tales of his youth there through to his phenomenal success in the music business – and beyond. But for that, my lips are sealed.   His stories intertwine with a tragic tale that will be best in his own words.

We spent the afternoon wandering through Barnardo’s lovely grounds as part of Robert’s trip down memory lane.  We also toured various schools and parks around the area in the Easter sunshine; it was a perfect day.

I must admit, I wasn’t clear on the true meaning of Easter.  So it’s with thanks to Adrian for elucidating the story of the Goddess Eostre.   To our early ancestors, whose lives were entwined with the land and the turning of the seasons, this time of year was all about worshipping the beautiful Goddess of Fertility and Springtime Renewal.  It’s actually from her that we get the word Easter.  Her special month was April, which in Old English was called ‘Eostre-monaþ’ – Eostre’s Month (in Old English, þ makes the sound th).  I do love a nice goddess story.

The first English people relied on the land for their existence and felt a close connection to it. Their faith was embedded in our green fields, rolling hills, streams and rivers. Eostre’s sacred symbols, the hare and the egg, transformed over time into our beloved Easter bunny and Easter eggs.  The religious importance of the festival came later.

Speaking of festivals… having consumed a ridiculous amount of chocolate, I managed to keep room for a wonderful Seder night at my cousin Susan’s.  (Huge thanks for that!)  Whether you’ve spent the weekend gorging on chocolate eggs or matzo – or like me, both – I hope you’ve had as much fun.

This is one of my favourite songs from Robert’s songbook.  “Don’t love me too hard, don’t push me too far.  Don’t try and make me if you want to take me, then don’t play on my heart.”  Sometimes business needs a little push.  If yours does, I can help… let’s spring clean the garbage, set some new intentions and create a social media strategy to set you up ready for summer.  Ask me more about it here: @WeekendWitch.

A world before Facebook, out of charge and Kate Bush on speed

When I was eight months pregnant, Gill and I sold the flat we’d lived in together while we were both single.  I loved that flat; we had loads of fun and I have so many happy – and funny – memories of Kingswood Road.  During the sales process, I had to go there for some reason.  I can’t remember why, but it felt sad to go back to a home that had been rented out for three years to people who’d abused it.

Now an empty and unloved property; I wandered around the rooms hearing the echoes of our laughter and felt wistful.  Then I felt a twinge.  Could it be early labour or simply a sudden urge to pee…?  Either way, there was no way I was going near the bathroom – the tenants had left it in a right old state.   And smack bang out of the azure blue a more recent memory flashed by of Gill talking about a problem with the lock on the front door.  And yes…. I was trapped!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingHotel California without the pink champagne; Rapunzel without the hair.  My mobile had less than 3% of battery left and I was about to give birth.  A frantic call to Gill and she – thankfully – was able to call the estate agent to rush round with the key and rescue me.  Only my ordeal wasn’t over.  As I sat panicking on the window ledge I saw the man appear around the corner – and he saw me.  Waving my arms in the air like Kate Bush on speed, he thought I was telling him my problem was solved.  He assumed I hadn’t been able to get IN, and all was now well in the world.  I can still feel how my stomach sank as he smiled and waved, turning on his heel and vanishing back from whence he’d come.

My 1% of battery got me through to Gill who, when she’d stopped laughing, called the agent again; lo and behold I was rescued.  Clearly this was before the days of social media.  I’d have been tweeting for my life (two lives!) in that situation, and I like to think a few Facebook friends would have charged on their white stallions, hopefully bringing a stash of emergency chocolate.

This story has nothing to do with anything, but it serves as a constant reminder to keep my phone charged.  Running a Plain English Business Writing session last week, nine people out of ten had their phones on charge – me included. After all, no phone, no Facebook – right?

Not being able to access Facebook on your phone is one thing; having it but not knowing how to maximise it for business is another.  If you’d like some help, feel free to ask me there: Imaginative Training for Social Media.

Don Henley obviously knew my plight.  ‘Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice… And she said, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”’  Well, no one has to be a prisoner when they have social media – the whole world’s open and waiting to do business with you.  Find out how: @WeekendWitch.

PS: Have a lovely Easter if you’re celebrating this week. Enjoy your chocolate bunnies!!  And happy Passover if you’re celebrating that – have a wonderful, delicious dinner.  (I’ll be doing both!)

Plain English, travelling and Miss J A Bocking: number 1 teacher

People always talk about that teacher…  That special person who steered us through one or two of our tender, informative school years and whose name remains forever in our minds.

In my case it was Miss Jennifer Bocking. A truly lovely woman whose traditional teaching skills and sense of fairness gave us ten-year-olds a good grounding in some of the behavioural techniques we’ve taken forward into adult – and business – lives.

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A dozen of my Facebook friends are in this pic – strong friendships for almost 40 years

No one was ever in trouble.  Naughty children were taught why their actions were unacceptable and shown strategies to improve and build relationships with others.  Those who couldn’t cope well with academic subjects were encouraged in arts and sports.  Anyone with only a few friends was drawn in to groups, by the whole class being subtly taught inclusive behaviour.  Everyone was made to feel special… and valued.

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Zara, Miss Bocking, me and Simon

I believe that Miss Bocking taught in our suburban primary school for a couple of decades.  So, when someone suggested on Facebook that we hold a school reunion for all her pupils, with Jenny (if we’re allowed to call her that now?!) as guest of honour, loads of people yelled “Yesss!” Some are planning to travel from their homes abroad for the simple reason of spending one more afternoon with this amazing lady.

How many of us can boast that we inspire generations?

The reunion is scheduled for early June.  Between then and now I’ll be away more than I’m home, travelling the country from Edinburgh down to Winchester in a quest to spread the word on plain English as the key to good business communications.

Social media training has been my focus for the last three years, so it’s nice to return to my roots and train in de-jargoning, anti-abbreviating and chopping out the superfluous waffle.  I’ve also had an influx of documents to edit, to make sure they’re well elucidated.  I know – that’s not a plain English word, but Katja’s putting on an exhibition of our favourite words, and that’s one of mine! To be clear, it means clear… and I didn’t learn that at school – only when I was doing my degree – and then I had to ask the teacher :-)

I can’t tell the story of the day I worked with Bob Geldof again… so I’ll just say that this was one of his finest musical moments.  “All the playing’s stopped in the playground now, she wants to play with her toys a while.  And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning, and the lesson today is…”  You know the rest.

My two years in Miss Bocking’s class were possibly the only two that I didn’t bunk off school or have a pretend stomach ache (although I did suffer from genuine migraines).  I never hated school enough to shoot anyone to get the day off, but I didn’t like it.  Apart from those two years in Jenny’s class – they were fab!! So thank you for that, Miss J. A. Bocking!

At least I don’t bunk off work.  Wherever I am in the country, you can always find me here: @WeekendWitch.

 

Childhood stroke, telling stories and drug dealing in Essex

This week I had the good fortune to meet a real life drug dealer!  Eat your heart out Walter White… this guy is the real deal.  I met him when I ventured into the heart of Essex to run a social media training session for a group of business owners as part of a low carbon business initiative organised by an Essex Councils’ consortium.

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While it looks like Walter and Jesse attended my training course, this is actually a stock photo that I edited myself. You’d never know it from the professional way I’ve superimposed the two photos, but I like to be honest about these things…

The training topic was content writing – brilliant for me because I love talking about blogging.  One of the key points I make during the workshop is that everybody has a story to tell.  Anyone who has set up in business did so for a reason – whether personal, financial or – the ones I love best – simply following their dream.  Before the formal introductions, as people arrive I chat to them and ask what they do. And Bow said, “I’m a drug dealer!” I think this was the first time I’d met one – certainly the first time someone’s admitted to it.

And before the police come a-knocking, I’d better clarify that this man actually sells legal drugs: prescription meds and that sort of thing. His wife is a qualified pharmacist so it’s all above board. But the initial image I had of a Breaking Bad caravan plonked in the heart of Essex gave me a very wide smile.  Now, there’s a man with a story to tell.

Work aside, I spent Saturday volunteering at the annual Child Stroke Family Support day – this year in Birmingham. (Which, incidentally, turned out to be a beautiful city!)  It was brilliant to meet so many of the parents who’ve joined my Facebook group.  One of the key points of the day is that people have a chance to meet other parents who’ve been through the same traumas, the same heartbreaks, the same worries – as well as gaining hope from people who’ve come out the other side with stories of inspiration and good outcomes.

You can’t explain to anyone how it feels to spend the night watching your child sleep, holding your own breath each time they exhale and wondering whether they’ll still be alive in the morning.  Only someone else who’s done that can really understand.  The expert speakers were fantastic, as always. They all donated their time freely: doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, senior NHS staff and a large number of the Stroke Association team.

Special thanks to Anna Panton who manages the Child Stroke project in London, she does an amazing job, which I’m sure goes way beyond her formal job spec.  Her role involves listening to families’ stories and advising them on ways to move forward and make those stories happy, positive ones.  The day is organised by a group of us and, although we met through harrowing circumstances, I feel lucky to have made such lovely friends – Liz, Nancy and new friends Sharon and Madeleine.

So, what’s your story?  Some business owners tell me initially that they don’t have one, and I say that’s rubbish. Part of my job is to find that elusive story and bring it out front and centre, so that the business can blog about it, tweet it and write articles based on that passion.  Call me if you’d like help to find your story: 020 8551 7077.

I hadn’t planned which lyrics to end with today, but as I was writing, these lines flew naturally into my mind.  ‘I could stay awake just to hear you breathing.  Watch you smile while you are sleeping, while you’re far away and dreaming.  I could spend my life in this sweet surrender; I could stay lost in this moment forever… Every moment spent with you is a moment I treasure.’  I don’t think I need to elaborate.

For the first time in three years I’m not signing off with my twitter handle… If you fancy clicking through to another website, please see what the Stroke Association does for children and young people.  One child a day has a stroke in the UK, and donations into research are always welcome. Thank you, and have a lovely week. xx

 

Diane Eve Warren wrote those lyrics.  Hands up if you thought it was Steve Tyler!

Magical dinners, implementing decisions and a dramatic blow out

Cambridge University is ancient, beautiful and verging on mystical. it’s a tiny city of charm and character that’s unsurpassed anywhere else in this world. It’s also term-time home to my younger son. He’d invited me and Ben to join him on Thursday for the annual, and extremely popular, Harry Potter dinner. It was a fantastic evening that even JK Rowling would have been proud to attend.

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Made it!

The students are used to candlelit meals in the great hall, but it’s not a regular Thursday occurrence for me to be waited on in sparkling dimness with red wine flowing and white owls flying overhead. (Should be!!)

We nearly didn’t make it to the dinner, or to the rest of our lives…  Our tyre dramatically blew out at 70mph in the middle lane of the M11.  I don’t think I’d have been able to control the car if I was driving, but Ben’s strong – and calm. His years of pounding muscles in the boxing ring paid off, and he masterfully swerved the car to the relative safety of the hard shoulder.

40 minutes waiting in a ditch in black patent high heels and a chiffon evening dress is not time well spent.  My witches’ hat remained in the car, keeping the back seat warm while our heads froze; the bitter wind whipping along the motorway and swirling towards the fields beyond.  It was too cold to even tweet!  I thought about venturing back to claim my hat but couldn’t risk a gust taking it flying along the highway– imagine that on the news reports!

Having posted our ordeal on Facebook, my phone started pinging with offers of rescue.  One of my Facebook friends drove past on his way north and spotted me shivering in the ditch.  He called to say he’d come back for me, but help was already at hand. He also offered to drive me to Cambridge – a favour that wasn’t needed in the end, but thank you very much Paul.

The RAC man was less friendly but very professional and efficient.  Tyre changed, we made our way slowly to the magical dinner, slightly dishevelled but happy to be back on track.

A near death experience really makes you contemplate life.  It’s never too late to do the things you want to do.  I always say that anyway, but I made certain decisions in that smelly ditch that I have implemented already.  One was to repaint my bathroom in shocking pink…

Many people have asked if we were saved by a magic spell or angels – or was it simply Ben’s excellent driving?  As Barry Manilow and Robbie both told us, ‘Spirits move me, every time I’m near you, whirling like a cyclone in my mind.  You’re my life line, angel of my lifetime, answer to all answers I can find.’

Could it be magic?  Who knows?!  But I do know this… if you’re looking for answers – particularly with regard to helping your business grow, you can always ask me here: @WeekendWitch.