Life After Stroke: stories of positivity, courage and determination

The Stroke Association always puts on a good event: inspiring and motivating for anyone touched by stroke. In his opening remarks, Chris Tarrant said that when he was invited to host last year’s Life After Stroke Awards, he expected the evening to be quite glum. On the contrary, the glitzy surround of The Dorchester Hotel’s grand ballroom is a perfect setting for celebrating the achievements of some awesome people affected by this cruel life-changing event.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | LinkedIn coaching ! LinkedIn training From the photos I posted on Facebook, it clearly looks like I’m a groupie for various familiar actors and actresses. Yet, however it looked, I wasn’t auditioning for a part in Coronation Street.  I think I offended Shobna Gulati when I tactlessly told her I was sad they’d killed her off in the fire; she said she was pretty upset about it too!!

Robert Bathurst, as you may already know – was absolutely charming, and recorded a video for Oli which I gleefully shared on social media. I saw him earlier this year being painted during the filming of Portrait Artist of the Year, blogging about it at the time. I thought he was really nice then, but I’m totally impressed with him now.  James Norton was cute (no sign of any murderous traits), Chris Tarrant seemed interested when we chatted at the bar, Sally Lindsay is just brilliant and Andy Bell was as sensational as he was back in the day.

But the evening wasn’t about all that.  It wasn’t about the fabulous food, the mesmerising ultraviolet stalactite table centres or the flowing champagne. It was about the people within the stroke community who keep going in the face of the worst kind of adversity. It was about the families and support networks, the carers, the volunteers, the fundraisers. It was about the professional teams who keep people alive, and with the best possible quality of life.  And, most of all, it was about the people who have survived a stroke, and embraced their new being with positivity, courage and determination.

We’re still battling to raise awareness of childhood stroke. One child a day is diagnosed in the UK, with many more strokes in children and babies being missed. Please keep spreading the word!!

My congratulations to all the well-deserved winners – and to the multitude of people who were nominated but didn’t make the final cut.  All are worthy of recognition. Huge thanks to The Stroke Association and their Patron, Baroness Karren Brady, for inviting me – and to Toni Mascolo of Toni & Guy (who cut my hair a couple of years ago!); as the evening’s headline sponsor, he made the night happen.

Andy Bell wrote this with Vince Clarke in 1988; seems appropriate now. “And if I should falter, would you open your arms out to me? We can make love, not war – and live at peace in our hearts… Oh baby please give a little respect to me.”

Everyone deserves respect, especially those who find it harder to make themselves understood. The Stroke Association’s current campaign is ‘Lost for Words’ and aims to raise awareness of the communication difficulties many stroke survivors suffer. If you’d like to help make a difference to people’s lives, please donate by texting STROKE AWARDS to 70500 to donate £5. Thank you.


Exhibitionism, ageless misbehaviour and my first studio TV appearance

What an amazing afternoon I spent with Martyn the Artist at the brilliantly presented Exhibitionism – The Rolling Stones! Without doubt the best exhibition I’ve seen since Bowie at the V&A.  Also the most expensive – possibly Mick Jagger’s economics background coming into play.  The Saatchi gallery is usually free, so I assume it’s the band making the money? Anyway, so worth it…

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIt turns out that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, childhood friends who’d lost touch, bumped into each other at Dartford train station, each carrying LPs of blues bands.  What a serendipitous day in music history that turned out to be.  Coincidence? Fate?  Of course it would be all so different today with school friends keeping in touch on social media.  Facebook highlights everyone’s musical tastes, fashion disasters and likes/dislikes, so it’s easy to find things in common with potential multi-million-pound-rockstar-partners.

Exhibitionism showcases not only the band’s talent, but their lifestyle over the past five and a half decades. Their logo pretty much sums it up: the sticking out tongue – an image representing ageless misbehaviour, childish anarchy and sexual decadence of a group of slowly aging men.  Martyn told me an interesting story about this branding; the intellectual property rights for the tongue still belong to the designer. He retained ownership apparently, and earns a nice little pot from the famous psychedelic lips.  A good day’s work, eh?

Aside from the music itself – soundbites, sound installations and handwritten, scribbled lyrics – the Saatchi Gallery displays their fantastically flamboyant fashions, set design, album cover artwork and videos in an encompassing microcosm of British pop. And it’s rude.  Videos of naked girls falling about drunkenly on tour buses. Like the band, these women are probably also grandparents now; it made us laugh.

In the eighties, Gill’s company were doing the PR for the Stones’ film ‘Let’s spend the night together.’  She brought home a huge bagful of badges with those words, and we traipsed around pubs and clubs throughout London distributing them to boys we fancied!  (Don’t do that now…)

The exhibition ended with a 3D concert: what a fabulous way to close the show! So my afternoon ended in a studio – strange, as it had started in one too…

Dr Anne Gordon and I were interviewed live on breakfast TV to talk about childhood stroke.  I tweeted a photo from the Green Room!  We both felt terribly important sitting in there, waiting patiently for the floor manager to organise us. When she came, a pretty young lady called Jennifer, we thought she was taking us into hair and make-up.  How funny – we were so wrong!  Three steps through the busy office and we were in the actual studio, sitting behind a desk waiting for Luke Blackall, the show’s charismatic presenter.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingAnne is extremely eloquent, and described her work with the survivors of childhood stroke. I spoke briefly about my experience – seven years to the day of Oli being admitted into the Royal London Hospital.  As I said on TV, it’s a shock that hits so hard it’s very difficult to move on. But move forward we do.

This weekend I facilitated a support day in London for families of childhood stroke survivors, where four medical experts gave presentations and the parents who attended could see that they’re not alone.  It was a Stroke Association event, and donations and support from the public made it possible. Thanks to the team, and also to KAO for donating their lovely office space for the day.

Aside from the fun of this week, it’s been emotionally draining for me, but music usually cheers me up.  My enduring memory of Mick Jagger is the night of Live Aid, where he danced around in a green silk shirt with David Bowie, just two friends having fun in the wasteland that is now Docklands. “It doesn’t matter what you wear just as long as you are there. So come on, every guy, grab a girl, everywhere around the world…”

There might not always be swinging, swaying and records playing, but there’s always social media.  If you need help with yours, call me – or ask me here: @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.

Life after Stroke, Gugelhupfs and being a nun

People on the tube are very friendly to nuns!  Following an incredibly funny girls’ night out to The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, I travelled home with Karen on the central line wearing a nun’s habit.  (Why is it called that?)  People were happy to give up their seats on the sweltering midnight train, and there was an unconcealed display of curiosity as to why two nuns were travelling east after dark.

No one seemed to notice my black Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingpatent high heels or fuchsia nails, although there was some sniggering when we started taking tube selfies and asking strange men to snap us for Facebook.  The man opposite me, trying very hard to appear sober, voiced his surprise that nuns are allowed to carry phones. I pointed out that a mobile is a means of safety for all women, and he nodded sagely, before slurring that he’d protect us with his life.  Nice.  I wasn’t intentionally impersonating a lady of the cloth but I do feel that, nevertheless, we educated him in some of the more responsible ways women should behave when travelling late at night…

So I can no longer claim to be the only person I know who hasn’t seen the Sound of Music! The singalonga… version we watched was hugely entertaining.  And Salzburg looks so beautiful; I’ve added it to my list of places to visit, along with Prague, Bangkok and Highgate Cemetery.

I had a very Austrian couple of days as it turned out, because on Thursday afternoon Liz, Nancy and I enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea at The Delauney.  Instead of scones and clotted cream, they serve poppy seed Gugelhupfs with apricot jam and whipped cream – and the most delicious sachertorte.  I asked for an extra slice but don’t tell anyone.

Earlier in the afternoon we’d attended the annual Life After Stroke Awards.  The awards are given to inspirational people who have shown extreme courage after suffering a stroke, as well as people who’ve gone the extra mile to support stroke survivors.  Their stories are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Thanks to The Stroke Association for organising a wonderful day, and to the celebrities who give their time each year to present the awards and provide an extra touch of glamour to such a worthwhile charity.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingThe winner of this year’s Children and Young Person’s award was a gorgeous young girl named Emily who had her stroke when she was ten.  Her dad is a member of my Facebook support group, and this week will see the 200th person joining this group.  (200 people, all of whom have shared the horror of wondering whether their child will survive the night.)  I set up the group to provide a forum for these parents of child stroke survivors to shout, scream, cry, ask questions, gain advice and support, and share the achievements of their children as they slowly get back to some sense of normality after such a devastating experience.

I was so lucky to experience a positive outcome, but not everyone is as fortunate.  I count my blessings each day.  No one knows what’s around the corner and every day is precious.  There is an old saying that does the rounds on Facebook every now and then… I can’t remember it exactly, but it’s something like: Live every day as if it’s your last and dance like no one’s watching.  I agree on both counts.

It’s not often that I quote Rodgers and Hammerstein, but this is good advice:  ‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream… follow every rainbow, ‘til you find your dream.’  I’ve been reading The Law of Attraction again.  If you have a dream but need help achieving it, I’m always happy to offer advice and guidance.  Ask me about one-to-one mentoring here: @WeekendWitch.

Making law, a magical time warp and positivity

Visiting the House of Lords is a little like stepping back into some sort of magical time warp.  Entering via the Peers’ entrance you’re greeted by a receptionist dressed in Fred Astaire coat tails and a white bow tie. The vaulted halls and stairway are so beautiful you want to lie with your head on the landing and your feet pointing at the royal blue, star encrusted ceiling, gazing at the beautiful glittery paintings and stained glass while people walk by holding golden sceptres.  Liz described it perfectly: a Victorian concept of a medieval dream.

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training | Plain English training | Plain English editing | copywritingIt’s an honour to be invited to watch a parliamentary debate in the House of Lords.  We sat quietly in the impressive Moses Room and witnessed an embryonic act begin to unfold.  I can honestly say it was truly awesome!  Baroness Wheeler led the debate on childhood stroke, with a number of Peers from various political parties supporting the cause.

Their speeches were well planned, comprehensive and structured to fit precisely into their allocated time slots.  Not a second of that precious hour was wasted: as one Lord or Lady finished speaking, the next person was on their feet before the previous bottom was even back on its red leather seat.  But more importantly, they were passionate and heartfelt; they put across a compelling argument for government intervention to support research, medical guidelines and after-care.

My friends and I have put in three years’ hard work to raise awareness of childhood stroke, so seeing it actually coming to fruition was the highlight of my week.  There’s still a lot of work to be done, but (hopefully!) it’s onwards and upwards from here.  A very positive day!

In fact, the theme of positivity has been overarching this week.  Someone began a chain Facebook post whereby everyone had to list three positive events each day.  David nominated me; I was a safe bet: I rarely have trouble finding the silver lining.  On Thursday I successfully delivered the final social media training session of a series of five – and was very happy to announce that I’ve won a contract to deliver another five starting in August.  Signed up a couple of new training clients and I’m meeting this coming week with three prospective social media management ones – so all in all it’s very positive on the business side.

Being snowed under isn’t always great though, as it can be hard to juggle the work/life balance.  That’s why I always try to tie in my meetings with something that’s not work-related and counts as food for the soul!  So my positive challenge week included two lunches with friends, huge Toblerone cake at Southbank followed by a boat ride along the Thames to Greenwich, a night out for Stef’s birthday, dinner at the Waldorf with my BFF and mango ice cream wandering around Covent Garden at midnight.  One of these days I’m going to find time to sleep…..

The artist formerly known as a squiggle says, “Can U sleep nights?  Do U dream straight up or do U dream in W’s?”  It’s positivity!!  Whether I’m awake or asleep, I’m positive that you’ll find me here: @WeekendWitch.

Life after stroke, awesome young women and a sad goodbye to Rik

I felt so privileged to attend the Life After Stroke Awards at the Dorchester this week.  The glamorous ballroom, elegant dinner and host of celebrities didn’t detract from the reason I was there, smiling, clapping and hoping my mascara wasn’t running.  Karren Brady introduced the ceremony to honour people who’ve overcome a stroke to create better lives for themselves and others.  Christopher Biggins hosted the event and many of the celebrities presenting the awards have either had strokes or are close to someone who has.  A veritable list of stars stood on that stage, but none shone as brightly as the recipients – all of whom were totally awesome!

Imaginative Training | social media blog | social media training

The lovely and very funny Tamsin Greig, one of the many celebrity Stroke Association supporters

I enjoyed my flaming brulée along with Liz and Nancy, the friends I made out of our shared horror experiences.  Together, we’re a voice for the families of young stroke survivors.  We sat between two politicians – one from the House of Lords and the other from the Commons, pushing forward the agenda to ensure childhood stroke is more widely recognised, fast-tracked and appropriately supported in its aftermath.

It was also delightful to share the table with Joanie and Sarah Scott.  Joanie and I met on Facebook and we recognised each other immediately – the beauty of social media.  Sarah suffered a stroke when she was 18, and has won the Volunteer of the Year Award for her work at raising awareness in schools and at public events.  She wasn’t the only young person honoured… Carer of the Year went to a gorgeous young girl of just 13, Cheyenne McLaughlin, who looks after little sister, the survivor of a stroke while still in her mother’s womb.  The Children and Young People’s Courage Award was presented to Hannah Garrity who suffered a stroke at eight years old.  And the Adult Courage Award was deservedly given to Angharad Lloyd Thomas, whose life was devastated by a stroke when she was 20.  All young people… all surviving…. All amazing!!  All determined to overcome, achieve and live happy, successful lives.

It was the second time I’d cried this week, and I rarely do.  But on Monday, I was early for a networking event in a pub in Shoreditch (yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking!) so I popped into a quiet bar for a cup of peppermint tea.  Scrolling through Facebook, I was hit by the dreadful news about Rik Mayall.

I didn’t know him personally (although I did date his chauffer a few times in the late 80s).  But the Comic Strip team epitomise my youth… I grew up with Rik and Ade, Dawn and Jennifer – and my friendships at that time were sparkling with their humour.  His portrayal of a poetry-writing, student anarchist entertained a whole generation; the politics may have changed, but the comedy genius shines as brightly as ever.  It made me so sad.

The networking event was lively, despite the sombre Rik chatter.  I got to play with a new on-line music platform – Music Jelly – and it was such fun!  I created a cacophony of sound with a mix of totally unrelated instruments, musicians and tappers (don’t know the technical term for that!) using a range of iPads to control my uneducated musical choices.  I can’t explain it well, but it’s fascinating and totally absorbing, and worth checking out if you’re a music lover.

Back in 1982, Rick Mayall and co coined Cliff’s words for their masterpiece launch into TV comedy history: ‘Once in every lifetime, comes a love like this.  I need you and you need me, oh my darling can’t you see…?’  This week quite a few people have needed me to advise them on website content.  If you need me for that, or any other writing or social media advice, I’m right here: @WeekendWitch.

Cultural dynamism, making law and being blown away

Wednesday was one of the most gloriously hot days we’ve seen in London this year, so imagine my surprise to emerge from Westminster Station and be almost blown into the Thames by an almighty gust of wind! My balance isn’t marvellous at the best of times, and my shoes were high and pointy… I almost ended up in the lap of a donut seller; the smile on his face was picture perfect.

I’d been invited to Parliament to speak to a bunch of politicians about childhood stroke. [Read more…]

Childhood stroke: a mother’s story

I’ve reposted this article to coincide with the final week of Stroke Awareness Month (UK).

“What??”  The look of incredulous disbelief when I tell people… “My son had a stroke.”

Oliver was 13 when he complained of a vicious headache; I sent him to bed with a painkiller, unaware that at some point he had passed out dizzily on his bed.  A trip to the GP the next morning proved eventful: whilst sitting in the waiting room a quarter of his vision disappeared.  Oli seemed unperturbed: “I can’t see over there,” he told me, waving his hand randomly to the right.  “It’s all gone black.”

Oli and me for blog1The locum GP diagnosed migraine and sent us home with paracetamol, but I took Oli straight to casualty.  Over the following months we were regular visitors to five hospitals, and at each one the staff told me: “Your mother’s intuition probably saved his life.”  [Read more…]

Lunch with Tom Jones, savvy sales people and lighting up London

I’m writing this at 1am so please forgive any typos or nonsense… Watching the Olympics closing ceremony tonight, we felt privileged to be Londoners. (Apart from some rubbish music – and where were Sting and Phil Oakey?) We watched the fireworks light up the sky from a distance, spreading colour and warmth across the city.  It’s been a spectacular summer for our capital, and how great if the British spirit we’ve witnessed this year continues!  We’ll see… [Read more…]