Renee

Creative installations, a performance psychologist and the devil’s own brew

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingMy thanks to everyone who supported the exhibition launch party at the Mile End Art Pavilion on Thursday.  The response was overwhelming and the evening was a great success.  Katja sure knows how to put on a show!  It’s always great to work with a fun, eclectic mix of people, and exhibiting my poetry installation with the talented artists and printmakers there makes me want to be more creative.  So I’ve signed up for a life drawing class!!  It starts in two weeks.  Ed, the tutor, is very cool, with a long twirly moustache and a woolly hat.  I can’t wait; it’s been on my to-do list for ages…

Sunil Bali is an executive coach and performance psychologist.  We’ve never met, but we’re connected through LinkedIn.  His is one of the few weekly newsletters and blogs that I subscribe to – it’s always thought-provoking and funny.

As this is the year I plan to tackle that to-do list, including at least two major scary adventures from my bucket list, Sunil’s recent blog hit home in a big way.  It deals with indecision and risk-taking…  Sunil says, “Playing it safe is good for roads and railways, but life requires risk if we’re to achieve anything meaningful.

We’re born to take risks. If we weren’t prepared to fall flat on our face, we would live in a world of bum shufflers where no one had ever taken a chance to learn to walk.  There are many dangers in life, but one of the biggest is safety, because you risk far more by not risking anything.

Moderation and splinters are for the fence sitters of the world who are too afraid to make a dent in the universe.  Playing it safe is mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise and doesn’t make anyone happy.  As former world champion trampolinist Dan Millman says, “Moderation is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.”  

So, as you’re reading this, I’m scuba diving in the Caribbean, somewhere off the coast of Barbados.  Hopefully, anyway!  If it turns out that didn’t happen, I’ll be sipping a pina colada (I’m an old fashioned girl) under a coconut tree, on a beach wearing flowers in my hair and turquoise jelly flip flops.  But that’s not very risk-taking, is it?!  That’s the devil’s own brew again… (Although I do drink my green tea luke warm; drinks shouldn’t be piping hot.)

If I get home without the Padi certificate, I suppose I can always turn my hand to trampolining instead – I have a rather large and unloved one sitting in my garden.  Either way, I expect I’ll be posting pics on Facebook of frothy waves circling my ankles and something to do with a pineapple…

As a wise anthropomorphic crab once said, “Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me.  Up on the shore they work all day, out in the sun they slave away; while we devotin’ full time to floatin’ – take it from me!”

If I’m under the sea I won’t be contactable, but later in the balmy Caribbean evening I expect I’ll be back here: @WeekendWitch.

(Many thanks to Sunil.  I’ve squashed his blog down a bit, you can read it in full here.)

Shoe seduction, a romantic hotel and prison: the verdict!

Last week’s blog heralded once of the largest social media responses I’ve received in terms of curiosity – lunch at Brixton Prison!  My verdict: It was fabulous!  The food was delicious and presented as beautifully as in any top London restaurant or five-star hotel.  Delicate attention to detail, perfectly cooked dishes and a restaurant with an ambience that can’t be faulted. The staff were delightful – and no, we didn’t ask our waiter what he was in for!  Although one insensitive chap did ask if they serve porridge…

Once through the prison gates, having navigated the security screening and been escorted beyond the heavily locked doors, you could be in any restaurant anywhere in the world.  A glance through the window may remind you that this is no ordinary eatery, but eyes kept firmly inside the room retains the illusion that it’s a free world… which hopefully it soon will be for the lovely staff we met.  I truly hope they find gainful employment ‘out here’ – as many of their ex-colleagues already have.  This is a wonderful project that benefits everyone – you can read more about it here.

The V&A opened late on Friday, allowing me an eleventh hour chance to visit the Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition.  This stunning collection of shoes and boots spanned history from the gold-leafed sandals of ancient Egypt to today’s much sought after elaborate and dramatic designs by contemporary designers.

The exhibition opened with a reminder that our childhoods were partly framed within a storybook world, where a glass slipper could transform a maid into a princess and special boots could make us fly.  Click our red sparkly heels three times and we’re back in Kansas?  Yes, exactly!  It also suggested that our choice of shoes has consequences that can reveal our true selves. The marketing material said, “Shoes punish and reward, elevate and entrap, speed and hinder through their powers of transformation.”

Footwear has always symbolised high social status, often making a clear statement about the wearer’s financial standing.  I think it gives a clearer indication of people’s tastes.  I clomped around the museum in my Hogarth Dr Martens, as the mile long walk to Brixton Prison earlier in the day – battling forceful winds – wasn’t helped by my suede stilettos, and my feet begged for a reprieve from heels.  But I’m not ashamed to admit that my Jimmy Choo boots came from eBay!  I don’t think it impacts at all negatively on my social standing.  On my standing up straight and not falling over standing, maybe…

1398389_10151981235781255_1362713167_oThe exhibition focused on the seductive power of shoes and some amazing examples were displayed of sexy, passionate-looking creations.  By contrast, the collection of 800 pairs of shoes that fuelled one man’s obsession – ladies’ shoes, boxed up and never worn – was simply creepy. Anyway, it was a brilliant exhibition but it’s finished now, so if you missed it you can make do with this photo of my shoes, circa 2013!  (Collection incomplete – if anyone would like to treat me to a pair of black patent Laboutin classics I would say thank you very much…)

Whilst still in South Kensington, we ate at the Cambio de Tercio Tapas restaurant that I can only describe as a different quality to any Tapas I’d tasted previously.  Wonderful little plates of deliciousness!  Piers Morgan was in the restaurant too; I wondered if I mention him in my blog whether he will mention me in his.  Funnily enough, this weekend’s Mail showed not.

Staying at The Gore Hotel in South Kensington was a treat.  The iconic Edwardian hotel boasts a clientele including, in the earlier days, Judy Garland and Nellie Melba, with huge portraits of its more recent regular guests, the Rolling Stones, adorning the bar walls – strangely in keeping with the historic wood panelling, although I can’t explain why.  Robbie Williams (whom I like) and Gary Barlow (who irritates me) met here to reform Take That, and a whole host of other musical, creative and arty people frequent this beautiful, romantic hotel. (Good review from ESD Magazine here!)

I’m fairly certain I’ve used these lyrics for a previous blog, but very appropriate this week for all sorts of reasons…  ‘I once met a man with a sense of adventure; he was dressed to thrill wherever he went.  He said “Let’s make love on a mountain top, under the stars on a big hard rock.”  I said “In these shoes?  I don’t think so!”’ (Here’s the full version on Pinterest!!)

I’ll be on holiday next week and may or may not post a blog, depending on whether I’m organised or not.  Thank you for bearing with me if I don’t.  But anyway, if I’m not here, I’ll still be there: @WeekendWitch.

Being 17, prison lunches and the marvelousness of LinkedIn

I fell in love with Andrew when I was 17 and in charge of the balloon department at Hamleys. He was blond, trendy and more than a bit whacky, working on the computer games counter which, in those days, was still a very new concept. The romance lasted a week and the friendship a fair while longer, as he lodged with Marion in various properties across London where we partied plenty and cooked blue food.

Andrew vanished from our lives once we started to grow up, and neither Marion nor I had any contact with him after about 1985. We didn’t forget him though, and often laughed about our youthful shenanigans over a bottle of Baileys or whilst wandering through the Scottish hills.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThen last week, everyone started posting ‘throwback’ photos on Facebook, and a hoard of smiling late teens / early 20-somethings started to fill my timeline. In choosing a suitable photo to add of myself, I came across one with Andrew; Marion and I laughed about it, again! But it spurred me on to find out if he was a) still alive, b) in the UK and c) well, never mind what we were wondering.

How amazing is LinkedIn??! Well, I can answer that in a professional sense, of course, as I run training sessions on its marvelousness – so a quick input at bedtime and three seconds later Andrew’s face was smiling up from my iPad. The exact same face, slightly older, hair a darker shade of dirty blond than the bright yellow of the 80s – and a beard! But the same nonetheless.

Whilst everyone thinks of Facebook as the hub for seeking out old friends and LinkedIn for professional contacts, they can naturally overlap.  Within 24 hours Marion and I had reconnected with people we’d worked with more than 30 years ago. We’re not planning to meet up, although it turns out that Andrew moved to Australia decades ago, so if an invitation is forthcoming, Marion and I will be quite happy to blog, tweet and post from Brisbane. Not that we’re hinting or anything…… (It’s pure coincidence that Preston Morley at Winchester Hawkins arranged my world-wide travel insurance only yesterday!)

This coming week’s quite busy, with a networking event today in Bank, dropping off my poetry artwork for next week’s New Home exhibition at the Mile End Gallery and lunch at Brixton Prison.  Yes, really!!  The Clink is an award-winning restaurant run by the ‘guests of Her Majesty’s establishment’ and has fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor.  It’s a brilliant concept that’s generated much press attention and even won the OFM award for best ethical restaurant 2015.  (I liked this Guardian review.)

Incidentally, I was in Brixton last week Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingtoo, to place a bunch of budding daffodils along with the thousands of other floral tributes at the Bowie memorial wall.  Very touching for a DB fan like me, but I’m not going with Bowie again for this week’s closing lyrics…

Instead, trying to think of a suitable prison song, my mind kept returning to Chicago, (possibly) one of the best musicals adapted for the screen, in my opinion. With Brenda Edwards being (possibly) my all-time favourite X Factor contestant, and she playing the part of Mama Morten on the west end stage, I thought game, set and match.  However, on reviewing the lyrics, they could (possibly) come across as being a bit rude (possibly).  Knowing that there’s a good chance my mum will complain, I’ve decided to go with it anyway – the cleanest verse, at least…

‘Got a little motto, always sees me through – When you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you!  There’s a lot of favours I’m prepared to do – You do one for Mama, she’ll do one for you!’

Off stage I don’t actually believe in tit for tat.  I’m always happy to help out where I can.  It’s equally true in business – to a degree!  If you need help with your social media and you’re a genuine start-up or small business on a tight budget, call for a chat about what we can offer you this spring.  As the daffodils grow, so can your business.  Ring me on 020 8551 7077, or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Social media shopping, voting for a hero and a sparkly-eyed boy

The nominations are open for the Soldiering On People’s Choice Award.  I’ve worked with this amazing charity for three years, and the people I’ve met have been exceptional, inspirational and damn nice folks.  I’d had little involvement in, or knowledge of, military matters before I was introduced to the founders of Soldiering On.  The work I’ve subsequently been involved in has opened up my eyes to a world I’d previously seen only in passing, as I flicked through my newspaper on the crowded tube on my way to a gallery or networking lunch or cream-fuelled afternoon tea.

The men and women who fight for our safety don’t get the recognition they deserve – even less so for those that are injured in the line of duty. The Soldiering On Awards recognise and celebrate those people (and animals!), casting them into the limelight to raise awareness of their achievements and any charities that have supported them along the way.  If you can spare a few minutes while you sip your macchiato, please read these stories and vote for the nominee you’d like to see honoured at this year’s award ceremony.  Thank you.  By the way, Jeremy Vine is hosting this year.  He may or may not be dancing; I honestly couldn’t say – and I can’t yet reveal who the entertainment will be.  But it will be a fantastic night if you fancy putting on your glad rags and joining me!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI’ve started an Amazon shop!  It currently contains a range of books on social media, and I’ll be adding others relating to plain English business writing and time management soon.  I think I’m one of the few women I know that hates shopping.  Traipsing around stores, either liking nothing or becoming so overwhelmed by the choice that I have to clear my head with a large slice of chocolate cake – it’s all too much.

Bookshops, however, are the exception.  I’ve spent many a happy hour in my favourite one in Holborn, browsing the art section, leafing through everything in the esoteric corner and glimpsing (but not buying) mouth-watering recipe books.  So an on-line book shop suits me, and I’m happy to be sharing tools to help you get started.

I attended a business meeting last week that impressed me more than you could ever imagine.  My accountants recommended me to one of their clients – and he turned out to be someone who’d played in my garden as a small child!  Avi is now a successful and respected web designer with a digital agency operating out of Shoreditch.  Yet I remember him as a sparkly-eyed five-year-old who played football with Ben after school.  It’s going to be fun working together!

I finally got to see Sunny Afternoon, the west end show about the Kinks’ early footsteps then later leaps into the music world.  Fab show – highly recommended; people were dancing in the aisles.  I quoted the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset two weeks ago, before getting the show tickets, so wasn’t sure whether to quote them again today – but I love this. I knew it as a Pretenders’ track so I’m sharing that video rather than Ray Davies’ version.  Anyway, I’ve met Chrissie Hynde and not Mr Davies, although my friend Sue danced with him at the Ilford Palais for the Come Dancing video in 1982. But my ex-boyfriend Brian’s friend Nick inspired Brass in Pocket, and that story is one of my all-time favourites, so I’m going with this…

‘When I look up from my pillow I dream you are there, with me.  Though you are far away I know you’ll always be near to me.  I go to sleep, sleep, and imagine that you’re there with me.’

I could be there with you.  Otherwise I’ll be here, like always: @WeekendWitch.

Meeting my Twitter friend, sailing the high seas and losing a musical hero

I first ‘met’ Jo in 2011, through Twitter. Although I’d had the training business for many years I’d only recently branched into social media and was keen to follow some leaders in the field. Having recently moved to France and set up a similar social media management company, Jo was a couple of months ahead of me. She seemed to be doing similar projects, tweeting similar stuff and had a similar work ethos to me, so we connected and shared info online.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAfter a while we became friends on Facebook, sharing more personal stuff than on Twitter – and on LinkedIn, where it tends to stay work-related. Then when Jo expanded into ebook formatting, she created my ebook (and will be doing another three for me this year). But, as is often the case with social media, we hadn’t connected in the real world. Until now.

With the Biz Matters event taking place in London, Jo popped over for a couple of days – and at last we met! In the sumptuous surrounding of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel we enjoyed a lavish breakfast before she caught the Eurostar back to Paris for her trip home to the lovely French countryside, where her two dogs and cat were keeping her laptop warm. It was brilliant!!

I missed Biz Matters. The London Boat Show was calling instead – this was a first!! Being a Scorpio it’s normal that I have an affinity with water. I drink three litres a day, wander along the beach in all extremes of weather and love nothing better than lazing on the bank of a meandering river writing poetry and watching the boats (and swans) sail by. Yet I’ve never had an urge to sail, until now. It’s funny how someone else’s passion can rub off on you, and a trip to the Channel Islands handling our own rudder and boom is now on the agenda for this year. (Actually there are some things I love more than the riverbank…)

With feet firmly back on terra firma, Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingyesterday’s afternoon tea at The Langham was both elegant and delicious. High Tea in the Palm Court consists of not just the usual melt-in-your-mouth scones with clotted cream and jam, to-die-for sandwich and broche selection and dainty, artwork cakes and pastries… it includes a rather large course in the middle – mine was a flaky tart (such as I have once or twice been described myself!) filled with spinach and mushroom in a creamy sauce, a poached egg balanced atop with a certain degree of flair.

One of the marks of a truly classy eaterie is its policy to offer more and more food and, in this, The Langham excels. The waiters constantly proffered more, filling my stomach to the point where I expected a Violet Beauregarde incident, somewhat like I had witnessed at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last week at the Theatre Royal.

Travelling home on the underground from The Langham I read an outstanding article in The Sunday Times written by Mary Finnigan, one-time landlady and lover of David Bowie. She’s published her memoirs, and I said at the time that I would be buying that today. Waking up to the shattering news that one of my all-time music heroes has left this earth has upset me tremendously, and my Facebook feed was filled with shock and sadness at his untimely exit. The show may be over, but Bowie’s legacy will outlive us all.

“I, I wish you could swim like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim. Though nothing, nothing will keep us together… we can beat them, for ever and ever.” Goodnight Starman, sleep well. X

 

Setting goals, being kind & harmonising the middle east (with brunch)

Two statements currently run hand-in-hand: happy new year – and have you made any resolutions?  Well, I wish you a new year that’s happy, healthy, prosperous and successful – and not just for January either, but for the whole twelve months.

I’m not asking about your resolutions.  After all, aren’t they just a humorous means of reminding ourselves and our friends of previous shortcomings?  On new year’s day I could have told you with absolute certainty that I would be opening my mail every day, remembering to take my vitamins and cutting back on the chocolate overload.  In less than a week I can’t quite quote those determined statements with an absolute degree of honesty, nor would I want to.  I know my chocolate willpower’s not stable enough to make it a thing, and I refuse to set myself up to fail.

Business, on the other hand, certainly does benefit from a written list of resolutions.  And I say written, as it’s well proven that the goals we set in writing are far more achievable than those we say, however true we intend to be to our convictions.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingSo, have you set your intentions for this year?  Are your business goals (and life ones for that matter) realistic?  Is it reasonable to believe you can achieve them during 2016?  Have you set end dates for each task you wish to complete?  Silly to say, perhaps, but isn’t a goal without a date just a dream?  Qualify your aims into long- and short-term timescales, keep them specific and set time limits.  I’m happy to help if you’re finding it hard to focus.

As expected, my lead up to new year involved a lot of lovely food.  One brunch worth mentioning was at the trendy new branch of Ottolenghi in Spitalfields – and not simply for the delicious food.  Yotam Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi shared their childhoods in Jerusalem, and create works of ‘edible anthropology’ using recipes from both Palestinian and Jewish cultures.   These talented chefs represent the two halves of Jerusalem, one raised in the west by Jewish parents; the other born and bred on the east side, living within a large Arab family.  Both grew up amidst good home cooking and brought their love of excellent food and creative recipes to London.

What a fantastic example of two waring cultures joining together in harmony for the hedonistic pleasure of feeding the discerning public.  Food unifies, it provides nourishment and makes people happy.  If only Ottolenghi and Tamimi could transfer the philosophy of their business model into a political manifesto, the world might become a better place.

At the opposite end of the London food scene, my friend Andrew spent nine days feeding homeless people at Crisis.  A hot meal, a warm bed, a safe and secure environment to spend the holiday season – luxuries that most of us take for granted.   Let’s hope that 2016 is a safer, kinder place for everyone. Live happily, fulfil your potential and achieve your dreams.

Ralph McTell wrote these words over 40 years ago.  While everything’s changed, in some respects nothing’s changed.  ‘How can you tell me you’re lonely, and say for you that the sun don’t shine?  Well let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London; I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.’

I spend an awful lot of time in London and love love love its dynamic, cosmopolitan atmosphere and eclectic mix of architecture, galleries, walks and restaurants.  There’s too much that’s fantastic to end the first blog of the year pondering Ralph McTell’s sadly enduring words.  But let’s not forget them, and – hopefully – 2016 will be kind to everyone.

‘People so busy, makes me feel dizzy, taxi light shines so bright.  But I don’t need no friends… As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise.’  We all need friends – make yours here.  Or here: @WeekendWitch.

A Dr Martens orgy, de-jargoning & carols with Charlie Chaplin – almost!

If you’ve never been to the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn, you have to put it on your list for 2016.  It’s one of London’s most fantastic hidden gems.  The internal architecture reflects the extraordinary imagination of the creator of some of our greatest landmarks – including the houses of parliament, where I will be dining in the new year.  The collection is an eclectic mix dating back to ancient Greece that immerses you the minute you enter this magical world through the fairly ordinary looking front door.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingA wonderful man, who was not a tour guide but shared with us a small fraction of his incredible insight, confirmed that my Dr Martens are adorned with Hogarth’s famous painting of ‘The Orgy,’  one of eight pieces that make up A Rake’s Progress.  This artwork depicts a night at a Covent Garden inn – not necessarily one that I have been to though.  The paintings in this fabulous museum are displayed in a small room using a moveable-wall system that still seems innovative today, yet was designed and constructed over 200 years ago.  Hogarth’s works are displayed alongside, in front of and behind other great artists, including some lovely pieces by Canaletto.

I didn’t even know the Hogarth collection was here until Philip mentioned it on viewing my lovely shoes.  (Not everyone thinks they’re lovely…)  The museum is actually Sir John Soane’s home, perfectly preserved with its original furnishings, books, monk’s parlour and crypt.  (What do you mean you don’t have those in your home? Think how beautifully you could deck out your monk’s parlour with baubles and boughs of holly.  Or mistletoe…)

xmas 2015

This will be my last blog of the year – and what a year it’s been!  Having spent the first half mostly in Travelodges, it will be lovely next week to be pampered in five star luxury somewhere between the Cotswolds and Bath, where I shall end 2015 in a dry flotation tank, whatever that is…

Plain English business writing training dominated the first few months, and travelling around the country delivering sessions on de-jargoning was lots of fun.  I have met some exceptional people this year and been introduced to places I’d never have come across without my national training contracts.  I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know so many through networking – both in real life and via social media.

The last few months have been equally dominated by one topic – although less work-related and more chocolate-related.  Whilst I can’t yet claim to be an expert on all things cocoa-based, I’m surely getting there.  You can be sure the Wii Fit will be brought out of semi-retirement after the festive season wanes.

Anyway, while it’s still very much the season to be jolly, I’m off to a carol concert, held in the entrance hall to a grand old mansion once visited by Charlie Chaplin.   It has a huge, twinkling Christmas tree and the local church choir will sing on the curving staircase while I hand around my home-made cranberry and cinnamon muffins.

So it’s time to say bye for this year – and thank you!!  It’s a pleasure to write for you – and I’m truly grateful that you take the time to read this blog each week. Thank you for reading, sharing and laughing.  Have a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, successful 2016!!

Saving a prayer, naming and shaming and a new cinema experience

I didn’t see Duran Duran live in the eighties, and can’t for the life of me think why.  We saw The Thompson Twins at least three times, Simply Red, Madonna, Queen, UB40 – all the major music players of the decade, but not Birmingham’s finest.  So it was a treat to catch them live at the O2 last week; still fabulous, if a little less boyband and a tad more ‘trendy dad.’

They’ve kept the boyish charm though, although I think I’d pass on the opportunity to smother my bedroom wall with images of John Taylor in his trademark fedora.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI hadn’t realised until that night that Eagles of Death Metal’s cover of Save a Prayer is the official song of the Paris appeal.  How amazing to see a sea of 40,000 waving lights filling the arena in memory of the tragic victims of the atrocity.  (Sign of the times – we used to wave lighters in the 80s, now it’s mobile phone torches!)

This has been a busy week for eating again, with lovely meals at Sheesh, Smiths of Wapping and retro TGIs, various cakes in trendy cafés and corporate events with wine.  I did my stuff on Thursday for a venue hire organisation in Cheapside (where they kindly gave me a client goody bag that included a mince pie to munch on the train home).

They provided a wonderful buffet which I mostly kept away from, due to anticipation of a networking event in the evening.  However, the Christmas networking provided – you won’t believe this – NO FOOD!  I’m not naming and shaming as I’m a fully paid up member, but I only stayed an hour then left, a slave to my hunger pangs.  Luckily I had the mince pie in my bag…

I used my time there to chat to a couple of business friends, then bumped in to someone I have tweeted with for a couple of years on behalf of one of my social media management clients.  We’d never met before, but we have now – and I’m organising a meeting between him and my accountant clients for the new year.  It’s all about building relationships, right?

Thanks to Mark and the team at Nordens for inviting me to the firm’s end of year party on Friday.  Fab evening, as always – with (again!) great food, wonderful company and lots of fun.  Congrats to the members of staff who won prizes in the company’s annual awards – which included prizes for digging your own grave, going the extra mile for clients and being a diva.  Very funny and entertaining.

Another meal that was entertaining and generally outstanding was Saturday night’s dinner at the Lounge Cinema in Whiteleys at Queensway.  This was a whole new experience for me! We shared a platter of sushi, duck spring rolls, burgers, lamb things on sticks, dips and the best chips ever.  Too full up to move we lay back in our reclining leather seats and summonsed the waiter using the call button, just like on a plane.  Ten minutes later he reappeared with a glass of rosé and a caramelised banana split that defies imagination.  Smothered in whipped cream and chocolate ice cream, with an array of fruits and drizzled in mango sauce, this was a visual treat that beat the film itself.  Apologies to Tom Hanks, but honestly – the dessert and the ambience makes it a place to spend a Saturday night, for sure!

I’m not sure what the Save a Prayer royalty money’s being used for in Paris; Simon le Bon was a bit vague at that point and maybe a decision hasn’t yet been made.  But anyway, ‘Feel the breeze deep on the inside, look you down into your well.  If you can, you’ll see the world in all his fire.  Take a chance like all dreamers, can’t find another way.  You don’t have to dream it all, just live a day.’

There’s always another way.  I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it… Follow your dreams.  Maybe also follow me… @WeekendWitch.

A quirky breakfast, Mayfair brothels and the chocolate ecstasy tour

Saturday’s chocolate tour with Nina was quite a delight!  Naturally, the constant stream of chocs we were fed was a delicious treat, but the titbits of London history were an added bonus.

Elle Coco (yes, that’s her name) explained the process the leads cocoa beans from the tropical fields to my mouth.  We learned to ‘appreciate’ chocolate properly: looking at the shine, listening to its sharp snap, letting it melt at the touch of our fingers, smelling it then letting it settle seductively on our tongues.  As it happens, Gill and I did all that in Switzerland, but we rushed the process far too quickly in our excitement to greedily munch the elegant samples.

Anyway, Saturday morning began with breakfast at Sketch, one of London’s trendiest restaurants.  Sketch has five separate dining areas and bars, each unique and stylish.  Its wonderful, quirky parlour was the opening venue for the chocolate tour, with bohemian furnishings and Louis XV chairs which we sat on to sip frothy grated hot chocolate.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingBefore we left for our walk around Mayfair though, we popped into the loos – one being black and shiny with a huge diamanté spider’s web adoring the wall, the other an open space of futuristic, intergalactic-style pods.  Worth taking photos!  Elle told us you can actually book on a – wait for it – London toilet tour!! How funny is that?!  (Gill – your birthday treat??)

So we learned some interesting facts about Mayfair. Saville Row was originally the home of London doctors before the fields of Harley Street were urbanised and tailors replaced them.  Burlington Arcade was built for Lady Cavendish by her husband in an attempt to protect her from the drunks and prostitutes of the day.  Two ‘Beadles’ (police to you and me) enforce some ancient rules, including no singing or whistling in the arcade.  This dates to the times when brothels operated in the basements and young boys ran through whistling warnings of an impending arrest.

We visited three fantastic chocolate Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingshops – Charbonnel et Walker (from where I coincidentally recently enjoyed a box of pink champagne truffles); Prestat (the pink branded heart-shaped boxes from which I matched my bathroom paint colour – Ooh, perhaps I could include my house in the toilet tour!!); and Paul A Young (whom I met last week at a chocolate-tasting event at the top of the Shard).  So it’s official – I have eaten ALL of the chocolate available in the capital city!!

I can’t recommend the Chocolate Ecstasy Tour highly enough. If you decide to book, ask for Elle Coco, she was fabulous.  On a separate note, we spent a while discussing healthy chocolate – and no, it’s not an oxymoron.  Eating a square of dark chocolate each day is a good preventative measure for avoiding a stroke.  This benefit is magnified if eaten with a slice of fresh apple.

So here we are, another week of blogging about nothing but chocolate!  I’ve run out of time to talk about the business networking event I attended at Bank and the brilliant people I met. I’m left with no space to tell you about my night at Fredericks in Islington – one of my new favourite restaurants. And it’s too late to discuss this week’s training sessions on plain English.  Oh well, another day, another blog.

I do like the six degrees of separation thing.  The chocolate tour took us down Regent Street, where I first worked with Marion.  She once bought me a Doris Day CD.  Doris sang today’s lyrics: ‘Couples swayin’ to a nickel machine, there’s a corner where we’ll never be seen.  It’s lovely to share that lover’s delight: a chocolate sundae on a Saturday night.’

The person I’d like to share my chocolate sundae with is abroad tonight but he left behind a packet of chocolate beans that I can use to make my Sundae once this blog is posted.  I’ll drink that and be back on-line in no time – still eating chocolate probably, but ready to chat – right here: @WeekendWitch.

Cheese porn, vintage French newspapers and Cyber Monday madness

I’m back in creative mood this week.  Katja’s booked me to exhibit my poetry in an art show next year, and I’ve decided to produce another piece of poetry-inclusive artwork.  I can’t say what it is yet, although I can tell you it might be a bit controversial.  Probably not as much so as the cheese porn poem, which raised a lot of comments – and eyebrows – despite it being about, err, cheese.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAs it happens, I spent yesterday at the Old Truman Brewery displaying even more disgraceful behaviour with cheese.  I sampled a greater number of tiny wedges of free cheese than you could imagine one person could grab in an afternoon.  Also chocolate (yep, back on that), Bailey’s marshamallows, bacon-infused sausages, coconut-based vodka cocktails and, well, after that stronger-than-expected concoction, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what else I ate and drank!

The venue is in Brick Lane, an area once so run down and slum-like; now a hive of cosmopolitan vitality, with cafés, bars, restaurants and the most amazing vintage shopping areas.  I love nothing better than rummaging through ‘vintage’ tut with an open box of street food in one hand and a newly-purchased 1920’s French newspaper in the other.  I’ve bought a couple of my favourite dresses in scenarios just like that.

Anyway, I’ve known Brick Lane since I was a little girl.  My dad drove a black cab and, from the age of about seven, he’d take me out with him on the nights when I couldn’t sleep. I’d perch on the arm rest next his seat with my arm cuddled around his shoulders to keep my balance, cheerfully dangling my legs in the luggage compartment and pocketing all the tips.

At the end of the night, somewhere between midnight and 3am, we’d stop off at the Brick Lane Beigal Bake for smoke salmon and cream cheese beigals.  (This was before the days of fashionably calling them bagels!) He was a regular customer and friends with the staff, so we’d go through to the back where the doughy rings were being baked.  I loved watching the men sdquidging them into shape. I can’t actually remember the culinary process now, but I’m fairly certain I was allowed to poke my dirty little seven-year-old fingers into the unbaked rings.

This week I skipped the beigals and made do with a pear and chocolate pannetonne, which I managed to demolish in one day, and a bag of hand-made chocolates with small pipettes of alcohol wedged into the ganache at jaunty angles.

I really need to put food aside and concentrate on work now for the rest of this year.  Social media is at a peak today – Cyber Monday, the day of internet madness when chaotic shoppers crazily bag pre-Christmas bargains – and I should be looking at new laptopsl  Instead I’m heading off to a law firm in London (quite close to Brick Lane actually) for a networking lunch.  I have a large flowery brolly, but if this promise of rain makes good, I’ll jump in a black cab.  So, I’ve come full circle.  Expect I won’t be cuddling the driver or dangling my legs anywhere in his taxi, but hey ho…

London’s famous for its black cabs, but no one seems to have written any memorable lyrics.  Joni Mitchell, however… “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.  They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  Sometimes you can only wish for a big yellow taxi.

If you’re looking for some good Cyber Monday deals, I hope you find lovely bargains.  And if you’d like to up your game on social media during this early Christmas rush, we’d be delighted to help.  You can email Marion or me, or call us on 07875 059540.  Or, of course, tweet: @WeekendWitch.