Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

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Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

Guess who’s been writing internal news articles again? Below was produced to promote the tool I’m developing as part of a team for a sub-project at work. More details below but so far the reception to both writing and project outputs have been great.

 

Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

 

When I was a little girl I wanted to be Britney Spears. Then around the age of seven I realised it would be a difficult career path (turns out it’s a ‘dead man’s shoes’ role), so instead I settled on hard-hitting journalism, only to find myself documenting the adventures of a pineapple in a party hat (don’t ask). Post University there were three years in charity and now I’m fast approaching two of the same at Nationwide but it’s only recently that the words ‘Project’ and ‘Management’ have sprung out as possibilities for someone like me.

I applied to be on a team for this year’s Association for Project Management (APM) challenge with echoes of Britney in the back of my mind. What skills and qualities do you

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Take on a crazy challenge alongside the day job or delete the email?

need to have to enter it? Where do you go to access accredited material? Is Project management even the right career? I was about to call it out on when someone else said it, and then another, until we’d all agreed that between our collective 17 and a half years’ experience no one knew the answers to these fundamental questions. Our deliverable was born; in four months we’d build a tool to help practitioners focus their development time more effectively. We would call it the “Project Development Matrix” (and Michael, our project manager, would tell me to stop suggesting we wear long coats and shades like Keanu Reeves’ did in the 1999 film The Matrix). With our tool all you’d need to do is answer a few questions and the answers would automatically populate charts to help tailor the development plan of the user.

 

The APM challenge is designed to develop project management qualities and knowledge of the project lifecycle. We produce detailed reports to deadlines, stage project boards with our sponsor and must deliver what we set out to do. For the finals night in May we’ll either have produce additional material or present to a panel. You’re up against teams from a range of organisations so company lingo has to be stripped away and everything taken back to APM fundamentals. The project would be enough of a challenge for a single co-located team, however we’ve added a layer of fun to the mix by basing ourselves across two Swindon and one London office.

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Snow put central London into a state of paralysis

So where are we now? In February we housed a focus group to get consumer views and refine our ‘product backlog’ for the first release, with a view to develop and expand the tool and its use case after that. No project is entirely smooth running, given the snow I experienced in central London I struggled to see why the original focus group in Swindon had to be moved, but it’s the setbacks you learn best from.

 

The tool is presently due for release at the end of this month. Give it a go and let us know your thoughts. Any issues and I’ll don my shades and get Keanu to enter the Matrix himself and investigate further.

“Giant Hamster or Tiny Rhino?” The Time I Interviewed a Senior Finance Executive

For my second of two articles I had to produce for the internal monthly newsletter I decided to do an interview with a senior bod in the organisation. However this is me and while I’m still clinging onto the famous ‘graduate’ gold pass (I’m not a graduate, but there has to be some perks to people forever calling me that), well, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take a different stance on the traditional dry corporate interview the Executive Committee usually answer via email. Even though you won’t know the guy directly I hope you get what I was trying to do here, I certainly got the feeling he did.

Jeremy Paxman got nothing on me.

 

Closed Conversations with JS, Head of Digital

 

JS: So why are we doing this?

AB: I thought it would jazz up the newsletter interview if we got to know the man behind the face. Don’t get me wrong, I love Digital strategy…

JS: *Chuckles*

AB: …but we don’t really get to know you. Shouldn’t take long but before we start I should say you’re allowed to decline questions or terminate the interview should you feel uncomfortable

JS: What are you going to ask me?!

AB: I’m just covering my back J

JS: *Chuckles* okay, go on.

 

AB: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?

JS: Galaxy

 

AB: Biggest strength?

JS: Resilience

 

AB: Football or Rugby?

JS: Rugby

AB: Favourite team?

JS: Bath Spa

 

AB: Playground nickname?

JS: Ginge

 

AB: Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?

JS: Tiny rhino

 

AB: Bath Spa or Swindon?

JS: As in the city?

AB: Well, yeah, I wouldn’t make you compare Swindon to basic hygiene.

JS: *Laughs* fair enough, Bath Spa

 

AB: What’s your Zodiac sign?

JS: Cancer

 

AB: Morning lark or night owl?

JS: Morning lark

 

AB: Tea or coffee?

JS: Coffee

 

AB: Would you rather meet an alien visitor of travel into space?

JS: *Pause* travel into space

 

Favourite band/artist?

JS: Anything before 1998

AB: What happened after 1998?

JS: It all went downhill

 

Describe yourself in one word.

JS: *Long pause*

AB: Just anything

JS: It’s a tough one

AB: Have you never had to answer that at an interview?

JS: I haven’t been interviewed in ten years! *long pause* Determined

 

AB: Digital or analogue?

JS: Analogue…joking! Of course it’s Digital.

AB: God, you had me worried there for your job. As if an analogue fan could head up digital, I’d have to get you escorted of the building out on principle!

JS: *Laughs*

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Swindon Anymore: On Moving to London

The below was written as part of an internal communication piece showcasing employees who have chosen to relocate for their work. My piece focused on moving to London but with a classic Alice twist.

I wake each morning and stare at an isolated patch of peeling paint. I don’t how it came to be or why I look blankly at it every morning, but it has become a weird habit I’ve developed since relocating. Everyone has habits here, some people get through their commute with a super-skinny-muchos-frappy-bean café deluxe, others smoke like the bellowing car exhausts on Tower Bridge, for me staring at length at a flaky patch is mine. And I wonder why my Mum worries for me.

The most over repeated piece of advice on Development schemes is to make your own opportunities and I suppose for me London represented this to the extreme. If I could survive in the big smoke I could thrive anywhere. Combined with an exciting placement proposition I could hear Threadneedle calling in May 2018.

Upon arrival I told myself that I wouldn’t become another digit on London’s loneliness statistics which is why I have made every effort to try new things outside of work. “Speed-friending” events are all the rage in central London, up there with humanitarian clubs and vegan veg-outs. Regardless of my outlook I’ve attended all manner of get-togethers and learnt so much of wider society. I’ve even learnt to embrace my inner hipster, sitting crossed legged at acoustic sets and hanging out in independent coffee shops in berets and neck scarves (and getting subsequently mistaken for being French. “Je suis…Anglais”, the end result of five years of the British education system).

From the moment I leave my flat each morning I’m reminded of how far removed I am from Swindon. The smell of soot in the air, angry cyclists cursing at pedestrians, the wrapper of a tourist poncho blowing down the street, admittedly my battered copy of Lonely Planet didn’t prepare me well for daily life in the capital. But through perseverance I’ve forged my own lifestyle and friendship groups and that’s what I’m proudest of. The experiences I encounter, good and bad, are shaping me into a stronger person, the person I never thought I could be.

My advice to anyone considering placement relocation comes as no surprise. Do it! In the protective bubble of development schemes there’s a lot to gain from taking a plunge. Just don’t get in the way of my morning commute, yeah?                            

A Pint of Blood Sir if you may: The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, London (Review)

 “Have fun on your date.”

“It’s not a date Mum. I’m going on a London ghost walk by myself, it’s a last-minute thing.”

When technology wormed its way into the English countryside I thought it would be a good thing. Get people more connected, better informed and stop my Mum asking me every five minutes if I’m going on a date. Well I was right, instead of asking me over the phone, she now texts me.

“Anyway, I’ve got to go now, it’s about to start.”

“Enjoy your tourist date.”

I sighed, dropping the phone into my shoulder bag.

Looking around at my fellow evening companions maybe having a plus one would have helped me blend in. Couple, Couple, tourists, female friends, couple. It was going to be that kind of a tour which is weird because everyone knows all men are attracted ladies with a fascination for historic execution, sewage and hanky panky. Obviously.

Our guide for the evening would be the creator of The Cloak and Dagger Tour, a man who goes by the name of Cary Galia. In the face of a number of competitors this guy decided to create his own tour of Southwark which, when you think about it, is pretty bolshy stuff. Dressed in 18th Century style attire he started the evenings activities at the historic George Inn pub, just up the road from London Bridge station. After formalities Cary lead the group into the heart of Southwark, notably Borough Market. I won’t give away all the gory facts and details for you (Cary would legitimately hunt me down if I did) but turns out I was more than a little misguided when I told my sister that the oldest part of the former pig market was “just added on as an overspill area for street food vendors”. Before this tour I clearly had rose tinted glasses on to think the block paving was only there to make the floor look pretty.

Still, time pressed on and there was a hefty round of drinks awaiting our cash in the warmth of The George Inn so we continued our tour. More gore, more History, more than some people could handle. I briefly got chatting to the only other single traveller on the trip, a middle aged lady who seemed shocked by the bloodied past of the South Bank.

“It doesn’t bother me, I used to study historic cases of infanticide. This is pretty tame in comparison.” I cheerfully replied, after which the lady didn’t approach me again. No idea why.

The walking tour was peppered with questions and mini re-enactments but the real spectacle came at the end of the tour when the group were safe back inside the historic interior of a function room. You’ve got to hand it to The National Trust, they know how to run a pub. Anyway, out of the blue another actor bursts in through the door and all hell breaks loose. Cary goes from jokey guide to full on performer, there are Northern accents flying about and to be quite honest I don’t know what is normal anymore. Where the hell am I? And where’s my pint gone? (Oh wait, I drunk it.) A dramatic fight scene, impressive monologue and the whole spectacle ends with the audience stunned in silence.

Suddenly Cary is all Southern again and returns to a normal person. But I can’t trust this man, the man of many voices and a coat I wish I owned. I eye him and the other actor suspiciously as he asks us whether we think his character was being honest or not. Silence.

“No thoughts?” He challenges again, “you’re that stunned?”

“It’s because we were so mesmerised by your performance!” One of the female friends quips with a giggle.

“Pass me the flipping bucket” I think, rolling my eyes.

We ended up coming to the same conclusion all British people have when faced with a debate; none. But that said it was a great end to the walking tour I’d had the pleasure in partaking in. I moved to London in May 2018 and have since spent a great deal of time frequenting the South Bank with, it transpires, a poor understanding of the blood and guts that used to flow down its streets.  Truth is, if you’re looking for a polished, clean take on history you’re better off spending the day in the British History Museum. But if you want to know the real, day-to-day existence for people living on the South Bank, before the coffee vendors, the refrigerated meat sellers and the hipster fruit smoothies then really this is your best bet at getting that. If you want to latter go to Cloak and Dagger Tours. But as I type this from a Wapping-side pub, glancing down at my phone, I request only one thing. Please don’t ask fellow participants if they’re on a date.

 

More information on The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, including how to book, can her found here.

 

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Working With The Salvation Army: Three Months on

From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.

Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:

Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:

  1. The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
  2. As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
  3. Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).

 

The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website

It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.

Here’s to the next three months, years, decades!

 

To find out more about Booth House visit their website

Learn more about The Sandwich People

The Season Alcoholism Became Trendy: The High Street at Christmas 2018

Hey, guess what? It’s only blinking Christmas.

(Wait, you’re telling me this wasn’t top of your playlist?)

As we enter into the final furlough of Christmas shopping it felt only right I put fingers to keyboard and compose a seasonal post of what the UK consumer markets are trying to flog this year. And boy, has the High Street really invested a lot this year into our well-being.

Kicking off with that point, designers and retail buyers across the land have made a sterling effort to make us more aware of our health this season. It’s good to see decision makers moving away from chocolate and fast food related puns and products. That’s because this year there’s a new fad in town; alcoholism.

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(You get the idea.)

Course, if gin isn’t your bag there are still a scattering of animal puns to be found in shops, however they haven’t charted so well so have found themselves relegated to the tea towel isles of TK Maxx.

And if tea towels or traditional animal puns aren’t your bag then there’s always toilet paper that features a rabid rabbit that looks like an extra from Watership Down.

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(All I’m saying is that it’s a couple of Bright Eyes plays from…)

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And that’s available all year round folks! (The loo roll, not Woundwart.)

Marketers struggling for new and original way to market often take a step back and return to the basic principles. Red is good, bells are better or if either aren’t possible from a branding perspective just stick a hat on it.

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“Yep Jimmy, that’ll do the trick”

Even better though, you could always put a hat to something that’s already a symbol of Christmas. Because if you stuff up the colouring of a traditionally seasonal bird in the factory, chances are a comical hat (that said bird would never wear), well that will entirely baffle and charm consumers into a needless purchase.

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I’ll take ten.

Now although a number of High Street stores have been making an active effort to advert public attention from certain political disruption (chiefly a UK event beginning with “Brex” and ending with “It”), unfortunately some shops just couldn’t overlook it. I found one bargain outlet stocking what I can only assume to be the retailer’s prediction of what a Post-Brexit banana will look like.

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I think it’s supplier’s decision to put it in a “Jokes and Gags” box that really does it for me. Brexit will impact you too China!

Speaking of China, I don’t find this assumption that British people only wear one sock funny either.

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What are we paying our taxes for if not to have Foreign Ministers dispel these ridiculous rumours?

You know what, come to think of it I think Europe and the wider world want done with us. I mean, even Denmark (Denmark!) are flooding our stores with what look like neck crackers.

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This is a very different take the the traditional Nutcracker tale I remember as a kid

 

Ok, ok, enough political stuff. Lets get back to the high quality gift giving, such as these fish slippers.

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You know you’re onto a winner when I don’t have to add any dry wit

 

Or an overpriced toothbrush?

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Getting that unique taste twice a day? That’s the flavour of bulls**t

Course, many people struggle to buy presents who those who may have been somewhat challenging throughout the year. When it comes to particularly ‘difficult’ presentees then I’d always recommend purchasing something that seeks to improve relations between the two parties. Something to subtly tell the recipient to lighten up or shut up.

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Just be prepared for backlash from the recipient and their crew.

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Why do I feel like I’ve had a dream like this?

You know what, this year I think I’m going to revert back to the basics. It’ll be chocolate gift giving all the way with me. At least with festive chocolates everyone knows where they stand.

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Is that Father Christmas or a slightly squidgy Christmas pudding?

I’m going to stay in, have a glass of wine and watch a festive classic on TV.

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For Christ’s sake!

Merry Christmas Everyone! With love from Jesus.

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