Renee

Resilience, optimism and decoding the enemy

During the war, Bletchley Park was the workplace of 10,000 people. Eagerly battling away 24 hours a day to decode enemy messages, these people worked under such a heavy blanket of secrecy that many of them were unaware of the overall strategy, focusing only on their own tiny, yet hugely important, part of it.

Communication took place via teams of bike riders scooting around the countryside, and carrier pigeons – some of whom received awards after the war for their bravery. The birds, I mean. Imagine how social media would have affected that war. We take our communication streams for granted today – phone, text, email, Facebook, messenger, Twitter, Viber, Whatsapp – to name just a handful of the most common channels we rely on to get our messages across quickly and accurately.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIf you’re any sort of code-breaking lover (crosswords, Sudoku, the Mastermind game that we played as kids) you must visit Bletchley.  Its rich history and the vivid way its story is told make for a wonderful day out. In fact, I’m going back. We spent so long in the two cafés that we ran out of time to see the whole museum properly. (I’m standing on the stone where Churchill congratulated the Bletchley staff!)
 

 

Alan Turing was an incredibly talented man who suffered a tragic end. He is credited with skills that not only led to the war ending two years early, saving thousands of lives, but as being the father of the computer as we know it. He took artificial intelligence to a higher level than most of us can begin to comprehend, even today in our advanced technological society, decades before anyone could imagine the influence computing would have on our lives.

Coincidentally continuing the war theme, we watched a short documentary that evening about a wonderful pianist named Alice Herz-Sommer, the last survivor of the Holocaust. She died two years ago, aged 110 – and it’s been some while since someone has made me speechless with admiration. This lady was filmed at the age of 106, playing the piano and socialising with her friends. She had the most cheerful, life affirming demeanour and an amazing warmth. She bore no grudge against those who had devastated her family and placed her in the vile ‘town’ of Terezin, a concentration camp where her life was saved simply by her ability to play the piano in an orchestra created for the nazi’s entertainment.

The boys and I heard about Terezin during our recent tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, but our short trip left no time to visit the horrific site.  We saw the misery, despair and curtailed legacy in the Synagogue museums though. Alice Herz-Sommer lived an unthinkable life during the war years, yet her beautiful spirit, resilience and optimism could not be broken.  She’s quoted on Wikipedia as saying, “I look at the good… When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” It’s so true.

Sometime back in the 80s, long before we’d met, Philip was invited to photograph a breath-taking event.  Survivors of Terezin’s orchestra gathered at Canterbury Cathedral to be reunited for the first time since the concentration camp’s liberation. He says the atmosphere was electric, tangible – and never to be forgotten. Reports I’ve since read say the concert did not dwell on misery, oppression and death, but on hope, optimism and survival. Not a bad life plan, by anyone’s standards.

Rumours is my all-time favourite album, and this seemed like a positive end to a blog that details hope and personal endurance: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, don’t stop, it’ll soon be here. It’ll be even better than before; yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Gone but not forgotten.

Spanish cocktails, boys in tartan and being prepared for social media

I spent last week in Spain with my friend Angie.  We don’t see each other as often as we’d like because she’s lived on a sheep farm in Ireland for the past 14 years – but she’s the queen of the Costa Blanca.

We had such fun.  She’s very poular and knows everyone so we were never short of company.  I am not a big drinker – one glass of sparkling rose at a networking event is usually enough.  So was a bit of a shock to my system to get through an evening on a strawberry daiquiri, pina colada, half a bottle of Cava, baby Guinness (which isn’t that at all – it’s a delicious creamy mix of tia maria and baileys) – then a final caramel vodka back at the ranch.

Angie claims I shouldn’t list these drinks as it paints her as a bad influence.  Especially as I previously named her as my 11 year old partner in crime for bunking off school to traipse around Carnaby Street.  There was a reason for that…  She wanted to visit her mum’s friend Hillary who worked in the music business.  Hillary now manages Cheryl Fernandez Versini – whose assistant is the daughter of someone I taught to use Twitter for business.  Six degrees of separation!!  I love that.

On my first night in Spain we were invited to the opening of a new bar in Villamartin.  As well as the delight of eating frazzles again (remember them?) the singer delivered a stream of songs that took us back to our shared childhood.

Surprisingly, the bar had no wifi!  So no one could tweet that they were there or post on Facebook to encourage local friends to pop down for a welcome drink and a frazzle!!  And of course, no wifi meant no facility to check in on Facebook.  It was bad planning; any new business should be properly set up for its launch and it was such a shame that this one missed out.

spainI’m not a jealous person, but I do remember a day in 1973 when Angie was taken to see the Bay City Rollers playing at Wembley and I wasn’t allowed to go.  Her dad sold Rollers’ tartan scarves outside the venue – scarves which my nana ran up on her sewing machine.  I hadn’t forgotten about this: my memory is sharp, but I’d long since tucked this recollection away.  It leapt back to the fore though, in that shiny marbled bar in España, when the singer unexpectedly belted out Shang-a-Lang, a laughingly joyous (!!) Bay City Rollers’ song.  Not what you expect these days, but the dance floor was packed – despite most people there being too young to remember the original version.

This was the first week I’ve been away without my laptop, so thanks to my dream team for keeping the business running.  I resisted the temptation to tweet photos of my paella and sunburnt skin – so it was a real holiday.

I’m back in the office now; 846 emails to sift through – 800 nonsense and a handful of relevant ones to deal with this morning.  Guess what will be playing on Spotify while I’m working…?

Couldn’t find the credits for this, but I can still picture the boys as they were, smiling down on me from the posters on my purple walls.  “Give a little love, take a little love.  Be prepared to forsake a little love.  And when the sun comes shining through… we’ll know what to do.”

Be prepared and know what to do: good advice in most situations.  Don’t be like the newly-opened bar in Villamartin.  Whether you’re launching a new business, a product or a concept, make sure your on-line presence is fired-up and ready to go.  Call me if you need help or advice… or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

(Thanks for a lovely week, Angie! xx)

LinkedIn one-to-one, passion fruit tarts and keeping a poker face

I was invited to my first poker night on Friday. I’ve sat in on some before when the boys have been round; watched, been confused, provided snacks – but this was a proper invitation from one of my clients.  I arrived late with my £10 for the pot, a box of chocolates (some missing – oops) and a handwritten list of the order of good hands.

It was such fun!  I learned as I played and managed to keep (I think) quite a good poker face.  A lesson with Ben shortly before I headed out had ended with the advice to wear a scarf wrapped around my face.  Yet, even without that suggested attractive fashion accessory, I won a few rounds (or is it hands?).  I also messed up on a couple, but I finished fourth out of eight which wasn’t too shabby for my first go.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywriting

Marissa with her winning hand

I won’t name the client as some of their clients might not be impressed with the staff running a gambling den on a Friday night.  (It wasn’t really that, it was a few members of the team playing a game and having a lot of fun.)  Well done to Marissa for winning the pot, and thanks to Joe for inviting me to join them.

It’s always good to do something fun at the end of the week.  Although I have to say, my work week was particularly enjoyable.  I always love one-to-one training sessions, and this week I had three.  The first was in Canary Wharf, helping the owner of a small business to use social media proficiently – especially LinkedIn as he is targeting a professional audience.  He runs a company that encourages organisations to improve team performance.  Not sure if that includes poker nights, but any team activity that makes people laugh and bond has to be good, right?

I spent the whole day on Thursday at London Bridge – I’m quite familiar with that area now, with three clients based within a ten minute walk of Borough Market.   One session was a Plain English training follow-up, and the other was a soundbite workshop for effective communication.  I covered some neuro-linguistic programming techniques in that one too, which always goes down well.

That client caters beautifully and I greedily helped myself to two delicious passion fruit meringue tarts ten minutes before the session ended.  It would have been acceptable apart from the fact that I was due to wander off to meet my friend in a cake shop.  We ended up having real food (beef stew), but stayed in the restaurant until I’d worked my way through an oversized chocolate and pear cake.  Enough said.

I’m going to pack now for my week’s retreat in the cottage by the sea.  As Kenny says, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away, know when to run…”  Well I won’t be running along the beach at sunrise, that’s for sure.  It’s more likely I’ll be in an old-fashioned tea shop with a large toasted teacake, butter melting and jam dripping onto my laptop.  Mmmmmmm.  I’ll be out of wifi for most of the time, but you can still find here, as always: @WeekendWitch.

Recruitment parties, GOSH and Diamond Lights at TalkSPORT

When my friend Robert wrote Diamond Lights for the football duo Hoddle and Waddle he probably had no idea that it would go on to be recorded by a host of celebrities over the next couple of decades.  The latest incantation is by two TalkSPORT presenters, Andy Goldstein and Jason Cundy, and aims to raise a whole load of dosh for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingNow, not being a sports fan I hadn’t heard of the radio station’s dynamic duo, but I definitely know GOSH, having stayed there for a few weeks with my son following his stroke.  So I’m very pleased to help promote this fantastic single!  You can watch it here on TalkSport’s website   or go straight to iTunes to download it. It’s fab!!!

 

Robert and I met on Twitter.  We tweeted, we chatted, we facebooked, we linked in on Linkedin and finally, we met – and we’ve been friends ever since.  Long standing friends and family though I’d gone bonkers when I announced that a stranger I’d met on twitter was coming to my home for dinner, but he turned out to be not an axe murderer at all.

There is obviously a clear line that you shouldn’t cross on social media though.  After all, we’re constantly fed horror stories of dating disasters, professional-appearing businesses that turn out to be as dodgy as Del and terrifying stories from around the globe.  But, with a little common sense, it’s perfectly possible to create solid relationships on-line.  Just please stay aware…

Whether Robert thinks I’m completely nuts is another story.   He came over once to give Ben a masterclass in songwriting and I gave a rendition of Fleetwood Mac in my dreadful tone-deaf voice; it’s enough to make anyone retreat quickly into the relatively safer world of online chat.

This week brings four parties – three for Christmas and one for Geoff, who is leaving his job after about 30 years.  We met in 1988 when I worked in recruitment and supplied staff for his enormous team at the local council.   He later employed me as the Plain English Consultant to train local government staff to write clearly, without jargon and in a way ordinary people could understand.  That contract set me on the road to starting my own business, so I have a lot to thank Geoff for! (Thank you Geoff!)

As I’m typing this I’m remembering a Christmas party where Geoff was recovering from knee surgery.  Forgetting about that, I dragged him onto the dance floor and, being too much of a gentleman to complain, he limp danced in agony.  (Sorry Geoff!)  Someone mentioned yesterday that my whole working life seems to have been one big party… can’t complain about that!

That particular party was many moons ago, but my delightful voice was on show there too, as I sang back-up for Carol in front of 150 bemused clients.  And I do still remember the song!!  “They say our love won’t pay the rent, before it’s earned our money’s all been spent…”

If your love’s not paying the rent and you’d like a business boost in 2015 to increase your visibility across the web, call me today for a chat. We can talk about running a sparkling social media management campaign for the new year.  My number is 020 8551 7077, or you can tweet me: @WeekendWitch.

Traditional training, dancing with Marion and Word on the Water

I’m really happy that Marion has officially joined the team.  She’s full of fun with whacky ideas and fantastic skills for managing some of our social media clients’ accounts.  I’ve known her for years; we started working together in the days when sisters were doing it for themselves and our friendship has endured through pop concerts, blue dinners, holidays, children, balloons, and Andrew Wright.  (But that’s another story.) [Read more…]

Plain English dreams, lost in London and Galileo Figaro Magnifico

If you were in the UK on Thursday night, there’s no way you could have missed the fantastic storms that lit up the world with shards of lightening zigzagging across the purple sky.  Unless you’re my brother-in-law, who slept soundly through it all like a worn-out little kitten.

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Fab photo taken by Tony Simmonds – Hove, Sussex. With many thanks to all my Facebook friends who supplied pics and links x

Lying in my bed at 3am, I remembered that someone once told me to unplug major electrical items.  So I crept downstairs where the boys were still watching a film, and ran around unplugging everything like a crazy woman.  Forgot the wifi router though, and woke up on Friday to find no internet!!  Unable to work from home, I baked a cake then headed out in search of 21st century connectivity.  Huge thanks to my clients, Nordens, for putting up with me all day!

During the storm, alarms were going off all over the place.  A nice chap called Vince who’s attended a couple of my social media training sessions must have been busy as a result – he’s a specialist in alarm systems, CCTV and all that. Strange the things that spring to mind when you’re listening out for thunder.

The day of the storm had been ridiculously hot. I left a meeting at parliament at 2 o’clock heading to a potential new client in Pimlico.  Turned out to be a 20 minute walk from the station – not in flowery flip flops this time, but high heeled, hot shoes – and I actually felt as if I was walking through a wall of tangible pressure.  It was so weird, like I had to push the air away to get through.  (Before you ask, no, I hadn’t been at the Pimms at lunchtime!!)  And to top it off, I got lost.  The silly iPhone map took me a horribly long way round, past beautiful cream painted Georgian houses that I couldn’t admire because I was suffocating.

It brought to mind someone else who Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingattends my social media sessions: Francesca writes London guide books with simple maps – and boy, could I have done with one of those that day.  Her ‘Step Outside’ London guides are actually for children, but they’re so beautifully illustrated and charming that they’re a pleasure for anyone with a love of London.  Must admit, I loved it a little bit less after the aimless wandering then rush hour tube trip home.

Aside from running a workshop on Social Media Strategy this week, I have a couple of Plain English sessions booked.  I’ve also been creating website content and de-jargoning technical blogs recently, for clients’ audiences that don’t need to know the specifics.  I do love a linguistic challenge.  I completed a plain English edit for a company abroad a couple of weeks ago, relating to extremely high tech computer software components – of which I knew nothing.  (I do now!)  The end article was far removed from the initial draft and received excellent reviews when it was published in the glossy Telegraph IT supplement.  Sometimes I wonder if I dream in plain English…

If you’re wondering how copywriters can turn a gobbledygook concept into a coherent and easily understandable text, I’ll tell you in the Gibb Brothers’ own words.  And that’s what it really boils down to:  “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away…”  (Sung so beautifully by Ronan Keating last week, but I still prefer the ancient Rita Coolidge version!)

I think this may have been my first blog in three years to talk about the weather. Whatever it’s like this week, have fun! And if you need me, you can find me here as usual, but with an ice cream: @WeekendWitch.

(Title lyrics by Freddie, of course.)

Protection from alcohol, award winners and a sanctuary full of love

Jump or curl?  What do you do as the light streams through the window? Before I throw back the duvet I usually grab my iPad to catch up on overnight social media developments. If I’m not in a rush, I can happily laze around with Facebook for company until I get hungry.  I thought Sunday was going to rain, so waking up to bright sunshine was a lovely surprise and made me wish I was going somewhere interesting.  Lo and behold, one of my Facebook friends had posted an ad for a craft fair being held at an animal sanctuary about ten miles away…

I’d never heard of Hopefield Sanctuary and it’s not well signposted from the main road, but thanks to Facebook, the place was flooded with visitors.  Founded thirty years ago by a couple appalled by the abandonment and abuse of horses in Essex, the sanctuary has steadily grown with tender, loving care and dedication.

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Safe from the madding crowd

Now also home to alpacas (my favourite animals!), donkeys, goats, pigs and various other abandoned creatures, it’s a delightful place to visit.  Sad, to know of the abuse these animals suffered, but joyous to see the environment into which they’ve been brought – and where they thrive.

I loved the craft fair and spent a good deal of this week’s income on jewellery, gifts and a bag of Baileys and white chocolate fudge, which I’m devouring as I type.  I found a beautiful amethyst bracelet, which was weird as I’d been reading up on amethysts just a couple of days ago.

These gorgeous semi-precious purple stones were regarded by the ancient Greeks as protection against the evils of alcohol!  Apparently, wearing an amethyst means someone can merrily get as drunk as you can possibly imagine, but will be kept safe by the gem’s protective powers*.  They also give the wearer a clear mind in business (helpful for me) and in battle (maybe less so!) – as well as increasing spirituality and an openness to whatever the universe has to offer…

photoI mentioned last week that I’d be attending an awards dinner with one of my clients who had been named as a finalist in two categories for a major industry award.  I’m so pleased to report that they walked away with TWO awards – huge congratulations to Nordens!!  I was especially pleased to hear that one of the judges remarked on what outstanding written submissions they had provided – so I guess that was a good day’s work for me!!

I never ask the female-specific question of questions: does my bum look big in this?  But, looking at the award photo, I can see that mine did!!  Or maybe it’s simply time to call an end to all the Baileys and white chocolate fudge…

So this fudge addiction makes me think I should be quoting Queen this week – yes, you know the one!  Won’t you take me home tonight…?

But no.  Hopefield Sanctuary’s patron is X Factor star Leona Lewis, so I feel compelled to end with some lyrics from her syrup-coated voice. (Baileys flavoured syrup?)  “Light up, light up, as if you have a choice, even if you cannot hear my voice… I’ll be right beside you.”  And if I’m not beside you, I’m definitely here: @WeekendWitch.

*Don’t take my word for it… be responsible!!!

 

Social media for designers, not doing maths and helping you win awards

Wednesday was such fun!  Dieneke runs an organisation called Hidden Art, turning passion into products by providing advice and support to designers, plus an online shop to sell their lovely products.  We met a couple of years ago in the oxygen chamber and have attended exhibitions together in trendy galleries across London.  She invited me to be the prize in a competition for 800 designers nationwide!! Three ‘lucky winners’ got to spend an hour one-to-one learning how to boost their business using social media.  Their prize also included an hour with Mark, my accountant who mentors in business strategy and realistic growth for small businesses, especially fashion and creative people.

Imaginative Training and Development | Social Media blog

Social media session with Emerald Faerie

We met some fantastic designers!  Barley describes herself as a textile designer maker, upcycler, craftivist and textile teacher.  She’s the founder of Fabrications, a gallery, shop and design studio based in Hackney.  Mark Finzel is a surface designer, creating fantastic wall coverings, flooring and furnishings which reminded me a bit of William Morris on acid.  Fiona’s company has the engaging name Emerald Faerie –she creates contemporary lighting: beautiful chandeliers and, to attract a wider customer base, jewellery.  The feedback was excellent, which was just as well as it wouldn’t have been a good prize if they hadn’t benefitted.

So from one prize to the next… Leaving Hidden Art in a fine mist of rain, Mark (accountant, not designer) and I travelled on a filthy overground train, then tube, in a floor-sweeping, black and silver sparkly evening gown (me, not him).  At our most iconic landmark, the Tower of London, we celebrated Mark and his colleague Joe’s successes in the British Accountancy Awards.  I do sometimes joke about accountants being boring but these ones are not and we had fun, champagne and a very delicious dinner. Entertainment was provided by Miles Jupp, a hysterical comedian and actor that I’d never encountered before but will look out for in future.

In case you’re wondering, I was invited along because I’d successfully completed the award applications on their behalf, a feat that requires plain English, linguistic and marketing skills; it wasn’t because of my proficiency with a calculator – although I was in the top set for maths at school, where Gill and I spent many happy hours playing hangman instead of listening to the teacher, who she fancied.

I missed a lot of school.  Working in the market on Thursdays meant I never did the double maths lesson or the dreaded PE; and having a stomach ache every Tuesday for five years got me out of double French, biology and whatever else I didn’t like in those days.  My next door neighbour Angie also had a stomach ache every Tuesday so we made ourselves feel better by dancing around our homes to 70’s pop or sneaking off for day trips to Carnaby Street.  She moved to Ireland years ago (with real emerald fairies), but popped over yesterday for a fun afternoon with pink wine and onion rings.  She’s on the plane flying home as I write this – see you again soon!!

So with the winning streak in mind… ‘Never could believe the things you do to me, never could believe the way you are.  Every day I bless the day that you got through to me, ’cause baby, I believe that you’re a star.’  Very nicely said, Mr Brown.  If you fancy winning a business award, find out more about my copywriting award winning service – ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Love letters, being hypnotized and laughing ocarinas

Sue described Saturday as my poetry/art/Bohemian/music event, and that was a pretty good description!  But, I must point out – it wasn’t actually ‘my’ event… 32 artists contributed to the exhibition, and my own exhibit, ‘Love Letter’ was a collaborative artwork with Martyn Royce.  The response was phenomenal!!  Our work was pronounced as “powerfully evocative” and “an emotional knockout.”

A huge amount of talent was evident in the room, and I particularly loved Darren Ray’s installation.  Who knew it would be such fun to mangle a thread of wire into words to add to his display of written dreams and visions?  The music was fantastic too: Avant-pop band French for Cartridge performed wearing paper fan masks and offering unusual, participative instruments to the crowd.  If you don’t know this group you should check them out on YouTube; Cat’s voice is hauntingly beautiful and my friends blew their ocarinas with more laughter than tune.

Imaginative Training social media blogIf you’re on my mailing list or follow me on social media, you would have received a couple of emails advertising the event.  And this is what I love about entrepreneurial people: an enterprising caterer named Evelyn received my email and promptly contacted me to say she would be happy to cater the day.  I introduced her to the organiser, and lo and behold, Evelyn arrived with a delicious buffet to complement the wine that flowed throughout the afternoon.  Her teenage assistant came equipped with a portfolio of her own artwork and attracted a good deal of attention for that too.

It was also fantastic to see Avril Mills,Imaginative Training social media blog the inspirational force behind The Dream Factory.  Martyn and I are donating our artwork to that amazing charity to help make more dreams come true for the very sick children that Avril tirelessly supports.  Special thanks to Gill, Sue, Steve and my family for coming along – and to those of you I’ve met at networking events who came via my Facebook posts and email – especially Julie, Ju and co.  And lovely to meet Pippa, the energy healer who found me on line and booked a place on my time management training session.  (It’s running later this month at Canary Wharf.)

And speaking of healing, I am eternally grateful to Steve Short for hypnotising away my phobia of eyes.  No more will I be forced to get off the train because a person with a stye has sat down opposite me.  Never again will I swerve the car because a radio advert for Optrex has freaked me out.  And I can now sit quietly through Greys Anatomy and The Walking Dead without shrieking and terrorising the cat. Thank you Steve!!

I’ve had a bit of a Scritti Politti kind of week, so this couldn’t be more fitting: “Hypnotize… How could your nothings be so sweet? You left your love letters incomplete.”

If your writing’s incomplete, let me help you.  Copywriting, editing, business writing training… Whatever you need, I’m happy to give it to you. @WeekendWitch.

Private dancing, silver cups and entertaining real life Twitter friends

Last week I invited a man I’d met on twitter to my home for lunch.  Some of you may think this is strange, unwise or totally bonkers, but others of you will think it’s par for the course in our house.  I made friends tweeting with Robert Puzey last year and we’ve since chatted on Facebook.  He is a hugely talented songwriter with a stream of glittering awards and accolades.  If you’ve danced in a club, disco or at a school reunion, chances are you’ve sung along to lyrics written by Robert’s fair hand. [Read more…]