Renee

Inspiration, cakes in Shoreditch and champagne with the man who woke me every day

Driving to the Park Plaza for Friday night’s Soldiering On Awards was a poignant experience.  Sadly, roadside floral tributes have become commonplace, but the crowds spilling out around Westminster Square were eerily quiet as they tiptoed over bouquets and read tribute cards while some, strangely, photographed them.

There was nothing quiet at the awards though! At the Park Plaza on the far side of Westminster Bridge cheering and clapping were the order of the day as over 500 people gathered to celebrate the Soldiering On Awards, recognising the achievements of men, women – and some incredible animals – who have been seriously injured in military service. These winners, in fact all the finalists that were gathered to be honoured there, have gone on to inspire others and create excellence from their tragedies.

C702WVNXwAABuVSIt’s unthinkable. Most of us are lucky enough to never suffer life-changing experiences and we simply can’t imagine what these people have been through, but there was nothing miserable or depressing in that room.  It was empowering.

My highlight of the evening was meeting Mike Read, the DJ whose captivating voice woke me every morning through college, my job in fashion and right up until I broke my clock radio. We spent half an hour chatting about this and that, he got me champagne, he said he couldn’t dance with me later as he hasn’t had dancing lessons – I told him I’m having swimming lessons, not that that was relevant.

17498727_10155169751331255_8419109128308697501_nAnyway, as far removed as most of us are (hopefully forever) from catastrophic injury, many of us do suffer from debilitating or unrelenting illnesses and that can be as difficult emotionally and physically as an unprovoked wound.  You may already know that I work with the Stroke Association to raise awareness of childhood stroke – a cruel and devastating trauma that can change the lives of a baby, child, teenager – and their families, often irrevocably.

I won’t harp on about that today – many of you have read my son Oli’s story, and it’s one that I’m eternally grateful turned out okay for him. I’m just mentioning it because, as I’m typing this, I’m also preparing for a meeting at the Stroke Association’s head office near Shoreditch. (Multitasking at its best – also eating chocolate and keeping one eye on Homeland.)

17555560_10155176863146255_8416856_nI’ll be going from there to visit clients in Hoxton (close to the hotel where my website was hacked!) to chat about Instagram and blogging. I’ve been promised hot chocolate and cake in a Hoxton café, so that will be nice! Although I have to admit I’m a bit caked out after last week’s Bake Off at my client and accountants in Woodford.  Nordens holds this competition annually for the team to bring in their delicious home-made creations – and guess who was a judge? Yes, me!! Well I do have rather a lot of experience eating cake.  Congratulations to Cydney who won with a lovely light lemon drizzle cake topped with mini Easter eggs.

17554955_10155176858516255_58716285_nWhich reminds me, my lovely friends at Kennards Artisan Chocolates (Desire4Food) created a huge Easter egg that was auctioned off at the Soldiering On Awards for a nice few hundred pounds.  (I don’t know the exact amount, but sadly I was outbid.) Massive thanks to them for their unswerving generosity and support.  They’re somewhere around Shoreditch today too, in a pop up shop – so I’ll pop up to visit them while I’m in town.  If you’re around there too check out their Facebook page and join me for a pre-Easter chocolatey treat!

Mike Read’s career has spanned over 40 years as a DJ, writer, journalist, TV presenter, songwriter and much, much more.  For my generation, there’s one song that we remember vividly as zooming to the top of the charts after he banned it from Radio 1’s playlist! (Coincidentally, Holly Johnson, who wrote it, bought a Swarovski diamanté brooch that Joan and I had selected for the Principles stores when I worked in fashion buying. I’d probably listened to Mike that very morning.) As Mr Johnson says, “Shoot it in the right direction, make making it your intention. Live those dreams, scheme those schemes; hit me, hit me, hit me with those laser beams.”

If you intend giving your business a quick blast in the right direction, feel free to call me for advice – or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Arts memberships, soaring doves and David Hockney’s bum

Being a member of the Tate is so wonderful when a major exhibition hits town and tickets sell out in seconds.  The Guardian reported that the Hockney exhibit sold over 20,000 tickets before it opened, with some visitors having to wait until 9pm for their chance to see the eclectic collection of artworks. I later heard is was completely sold out, but I’m not sure if this is true.

Anyway, early or late, it’s worth it. I chose to go late, simply because it was the only chance I had to get there during its first week of opening.  And that choice is one of the beauties of membership; I can just walk in without pre-booking.  The only problem with late night gallery viewing is that the café was closed, but hey-ho, sometimes you have to forego your cream bun in the name of art.

I was familiar with the most well-known pieces of course – but I had no idea his styles spanned different genres. The retrospective begins with Hockney’s early works from the 60’s, covering six decades of rich, vibrant paintings and installations, right up to the pieces that blew me away: his iPad and iPhone creations!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingNow I’m trying that, but it’s not working out. I think you need time to get the hang of it – at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I had a sudden splurge of creativity to get out of my system this week, so I hijacked an easel that I’d bought for Ben several Christmases ago and which has remained neatly in its box, and made a commitment to paint some celebrities. I need my art class to resume – I miss it. (And no, before anyone comments I don’t mean the naked men!!)

PS – post script – written after I thought I’d finished but worth adding in… We caught the end of a documentary about Hockney on BBC4 late on Sunday night. Within two minutes of hearing him discuss something art-related, we saw the great man strip naked and run with everything dangling into an azure-tiled shower cubicle with a skylight!  If I thought I’d seen all of David Hockney beforehand, I certainly have seen it all now!

On a more sobering thought… Our family lost a wonderful lady recently, and Nanna Joyce was buried last week in a lovely spot in London.  At her graveside, Carol and Denise released two white doves that flew in perfect unison, soaring high above us as the sun crept out to cast a warm shadow over the mourners.  The colour theme was lilac and purple, so today’s lyrics seemed an obvious choice.

“Dream if you can a courtyard; an ocean of violets in bloom. Animals strike curious poses – they feel the heat, the heat between me and you.”

I’ve shed tears for Nanna Joyce, and I’ve shed tears for Prince. But memories are always beautiful. That’s why the Facebook feature of reminding you of memories from past years is so popular. Do you share yours? If you need help to do so, ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Being too cute, poetry workshops and the perils of conference calling

I didn’t like Donny Osmond back in the day. His cutesy image irritated me, even before I knew the difference between cute and sexy. I didn’t particularly like his voice – or his songs and, anyway, I was a firm David Cassidy girl and you couldn’t be both! Gill, on the other hand, has loved him since she was about five, so when tickets went on sale for his London show I snapped them up.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAnd now, I have to admit, this man is a legend in his own time.  Fifty years in show business and not a scuff mark on him. No one dishes the dirt because there is none to be dished.  He is a true showman and, it appears, a gentleman.  The concert was fab and I’ve finally exonerated myself after several doghouse years as a result of the ER fiasco. I won’t bore you with that story now, you may have already heard it, but Gillian will be nodding at this point. (Although the Toblerone issue is now pending…)

One thing that made me laugh this week was the story of a man (who shall remain nameless) who took part in a conference call while working from home. The call was dragging on, so he took his iPad into the loo (multi-tasking!) – quite forgetting that it was an open-mike call!! I’m laughing again as I’m typing.  Embarrassing!!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingHuge thanks to everyone who come along to the opening night of Traditions, at the Pavilion Art Gallery in Mile End. It’s another fantastic exhibition curated by Katja of Art Catcher, and I met some incredibly talented and creative people. As a result, I’ve been asked if I’ll run a poetry workshop. I love that! It makes a nice change from social media workshops, although I love those too.

Poetry workshops give people space to explore their creativity away from the workplace, but without venturing too deeply into the artistic zone – ie: no mess. It allows you to dig deep into your soul, or simply express what’s on your mind in an inspired environment. I’m looking forward to that!

I don’t know the Osmond songs well, but I do like this one, and the final lyrics are so reminiscent of business days gone by that, in the context of my social media work it’s almost funny. “I’m just a little old-fashioned; it takes more than physical attraction. My initial reaction is, honey, give me love… Not a facsimile of.”

If you’re interested in exploring your inner depths through a poetry session (or business depths through the usual social media ones), give me a call on the number at the top of the page, or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.
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That song wasn’t actually written by The Osmonds, but by Jones Jr, David H / Brown Jr, Wade / Bristol, Johnny William

Tradition, looking up and Morgan vs Farage: an editor’s delight

I’m writing this blog at the National Gallery, one of my favourite London haunts. Aside from the fabulous collection of artworks, obviously – including my number one painting – the actual building is an architectural delight with beautifully mosaic floors and splendid arched and domed ceilings that I’m sure many people miss because we don’t look up enough. Also, the café is very lovely with an array of cakes immediately as you enter, always a winner as far as I’m concerned. The wifi’s good too, and the leather couches situated all along the galleries are comfortable and perfect for sitting, gazing, people-watching, reading, tweeting or blogging! One man nearby is asleep. He has earphones in but his mouth is drooped open. He’s not dribbling, fortunately.

16443476_10154998990331255_1731324406_n (1)I came here for a meeting, then spent a bit of time wandering around until I settled in this nice spot. It’s a wonderful gallery – but then so is the much smaller, teeny little gallery where I’ll be exhibiting my latest poem from Thursday (until the 19th).  I’d love to exhibit somewhere like this, of course, but the Mile End Art Pavilion is equally as exciting. And I’m making the cakes on Thursday – which I’m sharing for free if you’re able to pop along.

traditions-poster-3_orig (1)They’re traditional Jewish honey cakes, in line with the nature of the exhibition – which is called Traditions – and my poetry, which is about traditional Jewish food.  Ironic really, as I’m not kosher and bacon and prawns form the backbone of my diet.  No, that’s not quite true – chocolate does that, so maybe bacon is a rib – if you see where I’m going with this train of thought.

Anyway, it’s always an honour to be included with this illustrious group of artists and the show will be fantastic, so please do come along if you’re free on Feb 2nd, between 6.30 and 8.30pm. (Here’s my poem if you’d prefer to read it online, without the cake.)

Keeping with this traditions theme, I visited the Jewish museum for the first time this week.  It’s a remarkable place in the heart of Camden, tracing Jewish history in the UK from 1066 to present day. I thought I knew a fair bit about the religion, but I picked up some interesting facts, quirky trivia and a few disturbing revelations that reflect a notable parallel to today’s immigration issues.  Being a light-hearted blog I won’t discuss them here but, if you’re in London with a couple of hours to spare, the museum is definitely worth a visit. And if you’re wondering what the parallels might be, here’s a clue…

On Friday night, Gill and I went to the TV studios on Southbank to watch Piers Morgan (who we like) interview Nigel Farage (who we don’t). It was a hell of an interview. It went an hour overtime – giving three hours of solid chat-time for a 42-minute show. The meaty topics didn’t begin until almost two hours had passed, and we believe it was to ensure ITV had enough material to make a programme if Mr F got uppity and walked out when the questions began that he refused to answer. Philip and Hayley think that’s nonsense; for one thing, whatever his views and politics, he is a professional and wouldn’t have an on-air tantrum – and for another, the producer probably planned it that way.  Whatever, it’s going to be very interesting to see how they edit the show, which is being broadcast within the next three weeks.

The interview covered a lot of personal stuff – outweighing political discussion 2:1 and showing the more human side of the man.  I felt sympathy at times with regard to personal trauma and health issues, and I respect his determination to keep his family clear of politics and paparazzi; but my overall opinion didn’t change.  One thing impressed me though – he knows the difference between less and fewer!

As the interview overran we had no time for dinner before heading home.  Feeling hungry often makes me think of this song – it used to be one of my favourite love songs, in a weird kind of way. It’s amusing, although you can’t tell that from the lyrics I’ve chosen. Watch the video on Pinterest for a greater insight into the Jewish tradition of food and dating! “Four in the morning. (What’ll you have?) Well, I’m in the mood for a corned beef on rye. With a tomato and some coleslaw on the side.” See, nothing romantic there but it’s Dean Friedman at his best.

Tweeting about dinner isn’t a great business move unless you’re an eaterie or food critic.  If you’d like advice on what’s appropriate and effective to tweet for your own business, give me a call on 020 8551 7077. Or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

Social media marketing strategies, getting rusty and choo choo loo

I hadn’t planned to write about my toilet adventures, but several people have messaged me following my recent Facebook post to say it was the funniest story they’d heard and that I should blog about it. So much for writing a refined, sophisticated blog then….

I published the story as a helpful tip of the day: when travelling on a train, if you need to use the loo don’t hang a heavy bag on the coat hook on the back of the door. Yes, this is advice based on experience… The train jerked, the bag swung, it knocked the lock, the lock opened… a man walked in! I’m not sure which of us shrieked louder but he beat a hasty retreat.

Under the circumstances, I think he probably should have married me. That would have been the rule in the days of Seven brides for seven brothers, for sure.

I was on my way to Leamington Spa to meet with some super clients.  We had lunch in a hotel on the outskirts of town then chatted about their social media marketing strategy for 2017.  We’re into the third week of the new year now, yet many people I’ve spoken to haven’t defined their goals for this year, or the path they intend to take to score them. I have. I just keep getting a bit distracted from stepping onto that path.

One of my ongoing personal goals is to travel more, and there are hundreds of wonderful places in the UK that I haven’t seen.  So this weekend we started with Bristol, a dynamic city with an over-abundance of wonderful places to eat, enmeshed in culture, arts and the kind of lovely architecture that can keep me busy for hours, just staring at Corinthian columns and great feats of engineering.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingTwo of these fell within the boundaries of our radar, both brainchildren of Isambard Kingdom Brunel – one of the few British engineers I remember learning about in school.  Firstly, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is a massive structure elegantly spanning the Avon.  It’s jaw-droppingly high and bounces slightly as cars cross. On one side is an interesting visitors’ centre, where we learned that Brunel won a competition to design the bridge at just 24 years old.  He certainly had the entrepreneurial spirit.  Sadly, he didn’t live to see it completed due to delays and funding, plus his untimely death from a stroke,

We also visited his masterpiece of the seas: the SS Great Britain, the former passenger steamship that is now a museum. It’s being preserved and restored, with the hull ensconced in a giant dehumidification chamber within a dry dock – no one will be smashing the glass ceiling here. Conservation work is taking place to control the rust corrosion; I know a bit about this as Hayley is doing similar work on the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s recovered warship. Her PhD focuses on ways to control rust in order to save historical artefacts and she’s working specifically on iron objects from the Tudor ship.

Generally, if we leave things, they rust, rot, decay, fall apart and fail to serve their purpose. This is also true of social media in business. Constant care is needed to ensure fresh and healthy ongoing marketing – I’d be happy to help if you’re not sure which way to steer yours.

Within the last two months I’ve been on a plane, a train (as you now know!) and within the next two I’ll be going on a boat (not in the dry dock – across the sea). Bacharach and David put these appropriate words on Dionne Warwick’s lips: ‘Trains and boats and planes are passing by, they mean a trip to Paris or Rome for someone else but not for me. The trains and boats and planes took you away, away from me.’ Actually, they’re not appropriate lyrics at all!! They’re miserable! The tune’s nice though.

In these days of social media no one gets taken away; in the business world, everyone is just a few clicks closer. And how wonderful is that?!!  If you’d like me to show you how to expand and shrink your world at the same time, give me a call – or ask me here: @WeekendWitch.

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.

Succeeding in business, being accountable and taking my hand

I don’t make new year’s resolutions.  Well I sort-of do, but I don’t tell people. That way, when I don’t stick to them there’s no one to make me feel guilty.  Apart from me, and I expect it of myself, so I just shrug and say, Oh well, shouldn’t have set myself up to fail. Except that no one likes failure, which is why I think it’s best to avoid them in the first place.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIn business, we can’t fail; it’s as simple as that. To succeed, we need to set strategic business goals and follow a clear growth plan.  New year resolutions for business… Yeah, yeah, I say that every year, then ignore my own time management advice and go through the first six months being distracted by art galleries, lunches in London and the theatre. I then spend the next three months telling myself that one of the advantages of being Jewish is celebrating a new year in September, and therefore a second crack at the resolutions whip. The final three months fly by in a whirl of Christmas plans, with the happy knowledge of another new year on the horizon and that’s the time for resolutions!

I say this light-heartedly, of course. I wouldn’t have been in business for 20 years if that really was my attitude, although I do admit to needing reigning in every now and then. I’m doing that now.

Becoming VAT registered this month means that I must must must keep a tighter control on my accounts: retaining receipts, recording on-line business expenditure and invoicing on time. It’s boring, I don’t like it.  Fortunately Kirsty, the lovely VAT lady at my accountants, will do most of the dreary stuff, but I know I have to keep up my end.

And that’s the thing with resolutions: accountability.  With my VAT, I’ll be accountable to Kirsty and the tax office.  With my social media management clients, I’m obviously accountable to them – and they come first, every time.  But for everything else, I’m accountable to me and that’s not ideal. So now I’ll be accountable to you.

Here we go… my business plans for this year are to publish some books (Jo has already formatted them), update my website and organise some open social media training workshops in London. There’s a great café in Shoreditch where we had brunch on new year’s day, and it has a private room downstairs that will be perfect for a few hours of social media marketing and LinkedIn secrets. Let me know if you’re interested in coming along and I’ll sort out some dates for the spring.

If you don’t have a good solid overall plan for your business, at least make sure the social media is well organised. I’ll be happy to help if you need any guidance – that’s one area I make sure I’m on top of at all times.

And on a personal level… the obligatory post-Christmas diet? I had planned that, but I try to eat healthily all the time and I take my vitamins when I remember. I have no intention of abandoning my chocolate collection, so I’ll just stick to avoiding bread and gluten, and aim to eat more fruit. How’s that? I will walk for thirty minutes each day and cycle on the exercise bike at least three times a week. Just writing that has made me feel pleased with myself, so mission accomplished. I’ll never double book on Wednesday nights when I have my life drawing class and I’ll write more poetry for the upcoming exhibitions in which I’ve been invited to show my work. Plans, plans, plans…

Trying to think of a song about plans, this was the first (and only) thing that popped into my head! “We’re only making plans for Nigel; we only want what’s best for him. We’re only making plans for Nigel – Nigel just needs this helping hand.” I don’t know many Nigels, but I do know about social media planning. If you’d like a helping hand, feel free to take mine.  Give me a call – or ask me here: @WeekendWitch. Wishing you a happy, healthy, successful and brilliant 2017!! X

Idols, dating a roadie and less cheerful endings

I wasn’t planning to write about George Michael – we’ve all read so much about him since his tragic passing on Christmas Day that’s it’s reaching saturation point, especially on Facebook. But it’s true to say that he was a major influence in my formative years and, being the third of my late-teen musical heroes to be snatched away during 2016, I decided to jot this down (even if it’s only Gill and Martine who read it).

It made me so sad, but I smiled thinking about dancing to the Wham Rap 12″ in Gill’s bedroom. (Half my readers won’t know what that means!) We dressed like Shirley and Dee C Lee, with floaty rah-rah skirts and distressed leather boots. Dee’s sister went to my college – I think her name was Diane, and Dee came in to sing one afternoon. Not with George, unfortunately, but it was fun all the same.

My Twitter profile says, ‘Doing everything, regretting nothing,’ yet we always regretted that we hadn’t gone along to the filming of Wake me up before you go-go. We had the fluorescent tops and glowing beads, the big hair and the wide smiles… Gill even had an authentic Choose Life t-shirt. The fashion and Wham!’s music absolutely typified our late teens.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingI’ve used the phrase ‘soundtrack to my life’ many times, and this really was. Bowie, Prince and Wham! were constants on my fake Walkman, and featured on the regular playlist at the Ilford Palais – the salubrious nightclub where we spent most nights leading up to our GCEs meeting men called Ossie, Moike and Ben Down. It was a step up from the Brixton Academy at the time though, which may be why we didn’t venture down to south London for the now iconic video filming and a chance to meet George and Andrew,

We did go to quite a few concerts though.  I dated a roadie one year who got us tickets for consecutive nights. I didn’t particularly like him – I think his identical twin had the better personality, but the benefits were good… It was during that tour that we first saw George sing Careless Whisper.  He sat alone on the stage on a solitary stool, and I remember thinking that those beautiful lyrics might be my favourite ever.  As it’s turned out they’re not – but they’re probably somewhere in the top 20.

Band Aid played on the TV on Christmas Day while we were busy with the Silly Sausage that had looked so good when Kylie poked it on Jonathan Ross last week. I was pointing out to the boys how our 80s pop idols are, today, either timeless megastars or no longer with us. I pointed excitedly at George, with his floppy blond highlighted locks, unaware that he’d drifted into the second category as we pulled and twisted the silly plastic toy.

Then, of course, the obligatory Last Christmas came on.  They played a clip of it later, after the news broke, and it made me cry.

100million albums sold – that’s quite a number.  Prince achieved pretty much the same, and Bowie sold at least 140m, spanning a longer career.  I bought quite a few of all those.  And now, three of my five long-term favourites have gone in one year.  (Stay safe Meatloaf and Madonna!!) As Mr Panayiotou will still be saying long after our generation has stopped dancing, “Time can never mend the careless whispers of a good friend. To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind; there’s no comfort in the truth –  pain is all you’ll find.”

It’s been a far less cheerful ending to Christmas than usual, what with George passing, and various family members missing the holidays due to flu. But next week is a new year, and the start of wonderful things for everyone who believes that wonderful things can happen if you believe hard enough. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas week! I’m working today, then not… but you can still catch me here if you need anything social media-related: @WeekendWitch.

Fairytale castles, foreign art galleries and the beauty of Facebook

I spent a few days in Prague last week, having fun with my boys, visiting all the main tourist attractions and eating copious amounts of traditional Czech food. Rich and heavy (the food); poorer and heavier (me, following the food!).

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingBetween wandering through the ancient castle grounds and sparkling Christmas markets, sipping thick hot chocolate and gulping hot blueberry wine, we met up with Jana, a lady we hadn’t seen for around 16 years. Jana was the boys’ au pair in the days when they were shorter than me, and we lost touch for a few years until Facebook brought us back together.

I spend much of my time now showing businesses how to capitalise on Facebook for commercial purposes, but it began as simply a social site and this is a wonderful example of its brilliance. Jana found me online a few years ago, and we’ve been able to see how our respective lives have moved on, share celebrations and little niceties, like wishing each other happy birthday.  Very minor things in the scheme of the universe, but they’re the tiny touches that add colour to our lives.

Before social media kicked in, we relied on letters and postcards to keep in touch and I, for one, was rubbish at all that.  I have a big tapestry bag in the loft filled with old letters, mainly from Marion and Gill, and a few from Mark in Bermuda. Each time I start a spring clean I open the bag but can’t bear to chuck the contents – they’re a reminder of a previous life, before social media, before kids, before mortgages.

The bag also contains many, many, many photos… There’s a big change. I rarely print off pics now, sharing instead of Facebook or keeping them locked into my phone. I shared loads of Prague photos – cobbled streets with ice cream coloured fairytale buildings, river scenes, art galleries and desserts. And photos of Jana, of course.

The art gallery was a bonus. I’m usually hard pushed to get the boys inside one without a huge fuss, bus this was Ben’s suggestion. Dali, Warhol and Mucha – whom I had mistakenly thought was Parisian. It was a wonderful mix.  One of my Facebook friends recently said, “Art brings people together. I am reminded that ‘Earth’ without ‘art’ is just ‘Eh?” I love that! (Sorry – can’t remember who I stole it from, but thank you!)

Elton’s was the song of the holiday, even though I never did quite learn the correct lyrics.  “She packed my bags last night pre-flight; zero hour nine a.m. And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then.”

Whether you’re packing to go away or spending the holidays at home, I wish you a wonderful Christmas.  We’ll be around on social media right through the festive season, so if you need anything, you can find me here: @WeekendWitch.

Lovely Lisbon, not crashing and memories of Cumulonimbus

I nearly died this week.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I had the worst plane journey I’ve experienced in all my years of flying. Which is probably 45, so a long time.  Many years, many flights, many nail-marks etched into the skin of my neighbouring passengers’ palms.

I’d been enjoying the beautiful view… what’s the word? Skyscape? The landscape of the white fluffy clouds, daydreaming about angels romping across – or something equally as daft and non-work orientated.  Gill and I both have fond memories (and by that I mean we laugh uncontrollably) when we think about Mrs Holland, our school geography teacher with bows in her hair who always looked like she was dressed as a toffee apple. But she must have taught us well, as we both still remember the principles of arable farming in East Anglia, the reasons Fords chose Dagenham as its main production site and this – cloud formations.

So I was somewhat dismayed when the pretty cumulus clouds turned into angry cumulonimbus ones, then I slammed the shutter in horror as they, in turn, vanished into a thick grey fog. Two aborted landings in Lisbon resulted in the plane whooshing up at a 30 degree angle, terrifying all the passengers before the pilot calmly announced that we were diverting 200 miles to a different airport before we ran out of fuel. Or something to that effect.  I’d switched off by then. My mind had gone into overdrive wondering who would post my clients’ blogs if the plane crashed.

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Anyway, we arrived safe and sound, if not a little wobblier and a lot later than planned.  Lisbon is the most wonderful city!  I’d never fancied visiting as I had, for some unknown reason, a preconception of it being a boring commercial town. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s beautiful, cultured and full of history.

Its cobbled streets wind uphill from the Tagus in intricate patterns around the edges of town – ‘the old parts,’ rising through the steep hills toward ancient castles and the palaces of kings and presidents. While in the centre, a wonderful city rose from the devastation of a 1755 earthquake, with grand squares and gridded lanes full of quaint tea houses and gastronomic restaurants, the obligatory gift shops and a surprising number of very reasonably priced shoe shops.

I spent one evening in a traditional Portuguese Fado restaurant. It was someone’s home, a tiny, cosy setting for the mournful, passionate performance of the operatic-like singers and musicians.  It was great fun, although they dimmed the lights and I couldn’t see what I was eating! More fun was the electric tuk-tuk that took us back to our hotel one afternoon, shrieking with laughter as the little electric vehicle flew up the hills at 30mph and we clung on to each other for dear life.

In the space of four days we visited two palaces, a 1000 year old castle, the Basilica, the Time Out food market (twice!) the Tower, a sightseeing Victorian lift, the coach museum (less nerdy than it sounds), a wonderful gallery with an additional philanthropist’s private collection, the oldest café in Lisbon (1782), the most famous patisserie with its secret monastic recipe dating from 1837 and too many lovely restaurants to remember!  But the monastery was closed and I ran out of time to visit the Cathedral or ride the trams, so I need to go back…. (I hope Father Christmas is reading this.)

When I’m on a difficult plane ride the comforting words of Godley and Creme tend to spring to mind. ‘The world was spinning like a ball, and then it wasn’t there at all. And as my heart began to fall…’ That’s my favourite 10CC song, by the way – it hasn’t put me off flying.

And in answer to my earlier question, if my plane had nosedived into the cobbled streets or ancient woodland, Marion would have posted our clients’ blogs.  Anyway, all’s well that ends well and we’re free to spin like balls, if we like, knowing that there’s always someone to set us straight again when needed. We can help if your business needs to be set on a fresh, straight social media marketing path. Ask me here: @WeekendWitch. (Or fly me!)