Sunday 29 July 2012

Hooked on the Olympics

Oh no! Too late!
The chances of me writing this blog were already slim.
I knew it would have to be written while still in pyjamas and before the television had been switched on. 
But too late – the box is on and hundreds of different sports are calling me.
I knew I was flirting with danger when yesterday I found myself glued to the swimming heats.
If I was happy watching those, then clearly I was going to be happy watching everything.
And so I did watch everything.  
Judo, rowing, volley ball, fencing, cycling, ping pong...
It didn’t matter who or what they were playing!
Naturally I’m going to be more excited when there’s a Spaniard, Brit or Colombian involved but I can quickly adopt a team and offer my vocal support, shouting at the telly with relish.  
Yesterday I barely moved from the sofa, so hooked was I on the Olympics.
I only escaped for a moment for a friend's leaving drinks.
There I spoke briefly to a journalist who was disappointed not to be covering the Games.
She was stuck with Syria. It was boring, she said.     
I felt ashamed then. It really is a case of ‘Panem et Circenses’ isn’t it? Bread and Circus!
All problems are pushed to one side while we’re entertained with endless performances of strength, speed and stamina. 
But I don't want to dampen your spirits.
Inspiration is a precious thing and there’ll be a lot of it absorbed by osmosis via television screens during this Olympics.
Dedication, discipline, self-belief - they don’t just apply to sports.
They apply to whatever it is you want to achieve.
Unfortunately, I'm not going to achieve much at all today.
I fear I’m going to find myself in exactly the same position as yesterday.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Beware of Olympic Spirit Snatchers

My Proposed Outfit for the Olympics

On Friday night I watched the BBC’s ‘Olympics Most Amazing Moments’.
It included moments of victory and agony and it succeeded in getting me excited about the Games where the propaganda has failed.
An advert telling me to ‘BE EXCITED!’ doesn’t work. You’ve got to be moved and watching Derek Redgrave being helped to the finish line by his father or Kerri Strug land a vault with a sprained ankle so she wouldn’t let her team down, well, that passion can tug at your heart strings.
Watching the programme made me think of Sport’s Days in my school. I remember when I was little being determined to prepare for it.
Our garden had a small patio space sheltered by an overgrown jasmine and a line of paving stones marking a path to the back door. I took my skipping rope and began to skip. But alas every loop got  tangled in the jasmine bush so I soon gave up.
I was good at running but hopeless at the sports that required strength. It dawned on me then that I needed to practice shot put. So I picked up a rock from the garden and stood on the patio steps by the back door. I pressed it against my neck and I lunged it across the garden.
The rock landed smack bang in the middle of one of the paving stones and cracked it into  pieces.
Shocked, I went inside the house, locked the door and never practised for Sport’s Day again.
I’m capable of getting excited about the Olympics. I’m also capable of getting very angry about the brand protection officials who are killing the spirit of the event and penalising small business for showing any initiative.
I’m talking about a florist who was threatened with a £20,000 fine for displaying Olympics Rings made of tissue paper. An 81 year old woman who was told to withdraw her £1.00 hand-knitted Olympic Doll’s outfit from a Church charity fundraising sale and ‘Cafe Olympic’ in Stratford having to change its name, to quote just a few.  
Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s and MacDonalds - Ring any bells?
These are three of the poor, struggling sponsors threatened by so-called ‘brand confusion’.
Feel free to take a moment to laugh at the ridiculousness of fizzy drinks, chocolate and junk food companies supporting a sporting event. I hate to break it to them, but world champions don't succeed by eating their products.
I accept that for investing millions it is fair that only their products be sold at the stadium. But this nasty, over-zealous policing is a disgrace to local inhabitants
Frankly, it’s put me off the brands in question. If I had managed to get tickets for the Olympics I would head to the stadium munching on some Divine chocolate and wearing a Pepsi t-shirt and a hat with the yellow arches in a prohibition circle.
And if they dared tell me to remove my shirt or unwrap my chocolate bar, I would know that England isn’t the free, democratic country it’s made out to be.
The Olympics is about celebrating the incredible efforts of individuals as team athletes.
It’s great that these huge companies want to support the Games but please get them off the podium.

Monday 16 July 2012

The Apocalypse Method Revealed: Rain

We will need to adapt, and fast! Pic from 'Engelsman in Africa' 

I don’t know about you but I always associate the word ‘Apocalypse’ with fire.
I think of volcanoes popping up around London and submerging the entire country in lava.
In a more rational mind frame, I remind myself that ‘the end of the world’ really just means, the end of the world as we know it, i.e no twitter and people using their ipads to dig vegetable patches.
But now I realize how it’s all really going to end.
It’s the rain.
Quite simply, it will never stop raining.
If you live in England then you know what rain I’m referring to.
The constant one...
I had my epiphany this morning while reading the Metro.
It reported an ‘almost apocalyptic summer’ for wildlife.  
‘In some cases puffins have drowned in their burrows,’ it read, ‘sea birds have been blown off cliffs by gales and garden birds are struggling to find enough food for their young. It has become so bad there could also be local extinctions of rare and isolated insect colonies.’
It will begin with the insects but eventually it will come for us.
And it will destroy us in 2 ways.

1)   The obvious: flooding, contamination of carpets then water supply, ruining crops etc
2)   By Demoralisation: reducing us to shrivelled, sun-starved wrecks with no willpower to attempt survival

It might seem strange that the end of the Mayan calendar should end in fatal rain, when Mayan civilisation was itself wiped out by severe drought.
But I think it makes perfect sense.
It’s like when you open too many websites at once and your computer can’t cope and freezes.
Evidently they did too many rain dances and blocked the system, and their gods have taken this long to process their prayers.
Alas, knowing the reason behind the catastrophe will not help you survive it.
What we need to do is adapt, and fast!
I suggest we all lie in a bath of water for a few hours each day until our skin turns to scales.
If we’re lucky we might also develop gills and webbed feet.
We must adapt our digestive systems too.
Concentrate on flies and fish.
Eat both raw. By December the world will be too wet for fires so you had better get used to the taste now.
But most importantly of all,
learn to swim. 

Puffins are also fed up of the rain! From Puffinpalooza 

Thursday 12 July 2012

An Interview with Author Felicity Hayes-McCoy

A long time ago a lady walked into my shop and asked me, ‘Are you the blogger?’ It was probably the most thrilling thing to happen in my week. 
Years later I re-encountered her on Twitter and found out that she was the writer, Felicity Hayes-McCoy

Her book, ‘The House on an Irish Hillside’ has just been published by Hodder & Stoughton. It tells her story of leaving the hectic pace of the city to return to Ireland and make a new life in the stunning Dingle peninsula. For me, it offered a wonderful escape during a weekend when I was craving a break from London. I can still taste the crab claws cooked in butter and hear the sound of fiddles drifting out into the star-lit night.

You said you weren’t a book person and yet you appear to have written a book. Is it secretly something you’ve always wanted to do?

I started my professional career in the theatre and my writing’s largely been for broadcast media so as a writer I haven’t thought of myself as a book person. But I studied English and Irish literature at university and I’ve always been a reader. I think my work’s been a marriage of two strands in my cultural inheritance, the oral, Irish-language, tradition and the literary, English language, one. Up to now I’ve mainly been interested in the possibilities of the spoken word. Maybe now I’m moving towards a deeper exploration of the written one.

What would you say is the message of this book?
I didn’t write it with a sense of having a message. But I love one of the reader reviews on Amazon, which says This book is not about escaping to a 'better' place but about living as richly as possible where ever that may be...’ Dividing my life between Bermondsey and the Dingle peninsula gives me a deeper awareness of both.

Did you keep a diary of the events that happen in the book or do you just have an incredible memory?
I don’t keep a diary and I do tend to shape and hold whole paragraphs, and even pages, in my head before writing them down. I think that’s a result of experiencing a lot of storytelling before learning to read. The book’s partly about the belief that shared memory binds communities together in a web of individual awareness. The ancient Celts, who actively disapproved of writing things down, used memory as a tool for preserving and debating their world view. And communal memory’s still highly prized in the native Irish tradition.

How do you write? (In short burst, long stints, every day...?) 
Whatever it takes to hit a deadline.

You mention in the book that once your husband (an opera director) drove you nuts playing the same piece of music over and over again and you had to build another room... is there any music you can listen to when you’re writing?


Where (and what time) do you write best?
As long as I have silence and my desk faces a blank wall I’m happy. I can’t write in the evenings, though. If I do I’m still wide awake at 4.00 am, lying in the dark, shaping sentences in my head.

There is Irish in the book (and I didn’t dare pronounce any of it!) I kept wondering, how does your husband cope when you're in Dingle? Does he understand it? Do you think he will ever speak it?!
Right now he understands a lot more than he’ll speak. He’s eager to learn because he hates the idea that people will switch to English when he’s present. Musicians do more playing than talking though, so sessions tend to be fine.

Is there going to be a sequel?
There are plenty more stories to tell!

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
There’s a wonderful 1950s book of career advice, edited by Noel Streatfeild, with chapter titles like ‘You Might Be A Secretary’ and ‘Let’s Take A Look At Nursing’. A highly successful writer herself, and clearly a woman who took no prisoners, she lists the qualities needed to become a writer, including‘...a faultless ear for dialogue... a vivid imagination’... and ‘...ruthless individualism.’ Then she really gets into her stride. ‘Let me advise you, unless your parents are rich enough (and likely to stay rich enough) to support you whenever you are not employed or selling your work, to have something you can do on the side. You may think now that you won’t mind being poor if only you can give your talent full scope. Maybe, but all the same, before developing your talent, find a nice humdrum job that will support you in hard times.’

Anything else you’d like to add....
Personally, I never took Noel Streatfeild’s advice but I might have been better advised to!

Below you can watch the Trailer of 'The House on an Irish Hillside'...


Tuesday 10 July 2012

A Review: Blogging for Creatives

A few weeks ago a jiffy bag with an interesting looking book came through my letter box.
I only wish it had arrived 4 years earlier when I, clueless but eager, began this blog.  
‘Blogging for Creatives’ written by Robin Houghton gathers together all the information you need to begin your blog.
It is intelligent and easy to read and best of all it features a diverse range of blogs (including mine!) which are bound to get your creative juices going.
I loved Advanced Style – the photographer, Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, which celebrates the style of older people he photographs on the streets of New York.  The photographs are beautiful and inspiring and might marginally calm your fears about getting old!
Another featured blog, A Perfect Gray, is an interior design blog and is written by a girl on a mission to find the perfect gray wall colour. 
That doesn’t get my pulse racing even though there must be at least 50 shades (teehee) but judging by her number of followers she is not alone in her mission!
Finding your niche is key and makes writing a blog much easier.
Now that I’ve stopped being a full-time Shop Girl I’ve definitely found it harder to update this blog every week.
‘Blogging for Creatives’ leads you through the basic process of setting up your blog from choosing a platform, layout, style and content.  
It also includes some of the slightly technical (but not too technical) things you should know.
One example would be: How to create a decent mailing list. 
I discovered ‘mail chimp’ just a day before I got the book after a lot of wasted time online. (While we’re on the topic, please join my mailing list! Top Right!)
It took me 4 years to create a professional mailing list mostly because it simply hadn’t occurred to me to do one before.
That’s the great thing about this book - it provides you with ideas, suggestions and plenty of useful nuggets that might not have dawned on you otherwise.
Of course you can google every possible component of a blog to know how it works and even with this guide book you are still bound to spend hours working things out online.
The book lists useful websites but if it illustrated every tiny step it would get a bit tedious. This means you still have to commit yourself to hours of exploration.
If you are beginning a blog or have one but feel it isn’t quite up to scratch, then I recommend you buy this book.
I know I’ll be flicking through it again for inspiration and tips I may have missed.
After all, a blog is organic and should be forever developing.    

Blog Workshop
If you need an extra push to begin your blog, I will be running a  
Live Beginners Blog Workshop on Saturday 18th August 
Fee: £35.00
@ 77 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 4TW
If you've ever fancied a sneak peak at our chandeliers then this is your chance as it will take place in the same shop building which inspired my book 'Shop Girl Diaries'.

E-mail me: for more details.