Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ten tips for how to be greener today

1. Buy a wormery. The little blighters will munch through most of the things you can't recycle (kitchen waste including bones, napkins, even hair from your drain - eurgh!)
2. Check out Freecycle to find a home for the stuff you throw out which isn't good enough for eBay. Someone will even want your carpet off cuts, old videos and broken laptop .. plus they come and collect and the groups are locally run so petrol emissions aren't really an issue.
3. Re-use all your old supermarket bags until they die, then nip to Sainsbury's and buy some jute bags (or the cute ones that say Plastic Aint My Bag). Keep them in your car or near your front door at all times
4. Shop at your local market or farmers market once a week. Cheerful stall holders, cheap, fresh and often local produce, minimal packaging, what could be better?
5. Check out eco-friendly products like Ecover. My dad always told me they were rubbish, until I discovered he had never used them. Having used a lot of the range I can safely say the washing up liquid is great, the dishwasher tablets aren't, the fabric conditioner is lovely, and the washing tablets are fine for every day washes (but you might need to do every other wash with a biological if you have muddy children!)
6. Buy a water butt - or even go the whole hog and invest in one of those grey water recycling systems (your old bath and sink water is used to flush the loo).
7. Don't touch cut flowers unless they are British
8. Buy in season to save on the silly greenhouse heating for locally produced winter strawberries, or the air miles on imported winter strawberries
9. Change all your non-kitchen bins into recycling waste only. Sounds bizarre but you throw away more plastic/paper/card/tetrapak waste than anything else, plus if you keep your apple cores out of the bin you won't mind sorting through if you need to separate your recycling for your kerb collection or recycle centre trip
10. Grow your own! You will be amazed that a single courgette plant in a pot will produce just about all the 'gettes you will want to eat this summer - with no air miles and as little pesticide as you want (plus it gives you somewhere to pour the fertiliser your wormery inhabitants produce)
With the May bank holiday approaching what better time to kick off some greeny efforts? Even if you are not convinced of the benefits of recycling you will end up with tastier, healthier food and less landfill (which is ming, whether its killing the planet or not).

Monday, April 28, 2008

The role of sales

I am only 17 mins into tonight's Dispatches, but its already really annoying me.

Is it unique to Britain that we seem to think sales men are there to look after us? Why do we expect to walk into any commercial store and be told how to save money? Do consumers (and in this case Channel 4) not understand the difference between the role of the company (making money for its shareholders) and the role of the Citizen's Advice Bureau or other such organisation??

On walking into Carphone Warehouse, Phones4U or similar, I fully expect the sales man to tell me whatever he needs to sell the package that makes him the most commission. My role in the encounter is to be a savvy consumer who has taken the responsibility to do a bit of research ahead of time. Its not like sites like MoneySupermarket aren't all over the internet screaming at me that they will help me find the best deal. Its not tricky to work out that an 18 month contract lasts 18 months... and any enterprise handing you cash over the counter (cash back) is inevitably going to end up getting it back from you - they are a business not a charity.

Was I the only person who was raised to understand that you need to look after yourself in this world and that you never get anything for nothing?

It just annoys me that these consumers are called "victims" when it is in fact themselves, not the mobile industry, that has been the perpetrator of the crime of stupidity.

POST SCRIPT - it is a misrepresentation to doorstep CEOs of major operators at their largest trade show of the year. I go to Mobile World Congress every year and the CEOs don't even have time to talk to their colleagues between pre-scheduled meetings. Its their busiest week of the year so if you want an interview ask in advance - why are you more important than the journalist that the boss of O2 is already on the way to meet (the journalist who booked in advance...)?

PPS - this is the last I will say on this programme (its making my blood boil) but can I ask where the consumer will be left when the operator goes out of business? You take away their profit from monthly subscriptions, profit from text messaging, profit from voice calls... the operator then has no profit. One of the specialists on the programme actually just said "once the service is up and running the profit margin is enormous..." but crucially didn't explain that these operators are still burdened with debts from setting up these services. Why do the British want our businesses to make a loss?

In loving memory...

Its been a sad morning, I have been packaging a large pile of stuff to put in the loft for the next couple of years. Among today's packing was my shoes and try as I might I couldn't justify taking my knee high boots - either brown or black - to Australia. They don't pack small enough you see...

So this blog post is for me really, so in the months ahead I can peek back and remind myself of the presence of my shoes, back home waiting for me. I sold about 10 pairs at the car boot, have another 2 on eBay, threw away 5 and now have a large box in the loft... and a short list of 17 to take to Oz (thats them on the shelves). Is 17 still too many??

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Car booty

In preparation for the move to Oz I have been wading through my house and being rather ruthless about what I can get rid of. Using my laziness as a prompt ("can I be bothered to package this in the loft for two years?") I have amassed a large pile of stuff to throw out.

Last week I eBayed a load of DVDs I don't actually like, a nest of family heirloom 70s coffee tables (foul) and other stuff, raising £60. Today I took the rest to a car boot.

Up at 6.30am and with the help of my sister I managed to make £89 in just two hours selling (before the heavens opened and everyone -including us - cleared off). I even sold a big old TV for £10!

I am now sitting in my lounge surrounded by the few unsold clothes which are hanging from every door and curtain rail to dry out, and plotting my next car boot. There was enough unsold to make it worth squeezing in another sunday morning in a field - all the bulky stuff sold so the leftovers all fit in my lounge cupboard out of the way, and I reckon I could make another £30-40 with the rest.

Odd things that sold - an old NTL box with no remote (left by my house's previous owner), a suit (which the man never came back to collect so I can resell next time!), two old towels (I can only assume for dog use!), my native american art book...

When I add today's sales efforts to eBay I have £150 already! All rather essential because this week I ordered four new hats online.... I need to curb the shopping!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reflections of friends

When I was a child I would look at my friends and see their faces. And when I looked at their parents I just saw their own faces too.

Now when I look at my nieces or my friends children its their parents faces I see. All mixed together so you see a familiar nose here, a tell-tail mouth there, but unmistakably the features of my grown up friends.

I love seeing it and love how it takes me by surprise each time because these childrens faces are not static. One minute you are deep in conversation about the best place to stick a Dora Explorer sticker, and suddenly there is Nicks dimpled smile. Or Phil's grin - strange without teeth, Liz's forehead or Jez's chin. How a chin can suddenly appear from nowhere is beyond me, but it does. Regularly. And it makes me stare everytime.

The best thing about childrens faces is that they remind you of how much you like being around your own friends and family.

The familiarity of their features is comforting and it makes me happy.

This is one of the things I will miss in Sydney.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lakeland enlightenment

Its not often that a columnist writes an article that provides a genuine lightbulb moment in my life.

But Sarah Vine may just have done it.

Another nail in the coffin for local democracy

Hot on the heels of my post about the May 1st elections I have more sad evidence that local democracy is being eroded.

A couple of years ago the residents of Letchworth Garden City elected, in a full local referendum, a town council. In line with the laws of this country that referendum followed the same laws as any election - allowing postal votes, all day polling stations etc.

Now Letchworth Garden City is a strange beast (I won't go into the full quaker, tee-total, cooperation-based history here) which means that the local council has always been slightly contraversial. We already have the local council (NHDC) who are, like all councils, tasked by central government to perform certain functions. On top of that we have the Heritage Foundation, who essentially look after the history and character of the town, and now we have the Town Council, who are intended to represent the people of the town.

I particularly like the town council because they are constantly asking the residents' opinions and obviously care.

Anyway, someone in the town (I shant name him here) has decided he doesn't like us having a Town Council and has discovered a little used strategy to get rid of them.

He has called a poll. Different to an election, the poll can still disband the council. Crucially however, the poll doesn't follow UK election law. The booths are open 4-9pm today (I have a client dinner tonight) and no postal votes are allowed.

So there goes my democractic right, because one man isn't happy. And potentially there goes my Town Council.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Green searching

Came across this great new green initiative on Twitter feeds.

Ecocho uses Google and Yahoo search engines but by conducting the search from their home page you help them raise money to plant trees.

I dislike the concept of off-setting (I think it makes people lazy about reducing carbon) but planting trees in conjunction with reduced carbon consumption is a very good idea - so get searching, and then make sure you turn your PC off at night!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I was in Sainsburys today and couldn't resist taking a photo of this. I can't explain why, but the idea of Spam Lite made me chuckle into my trolley.

Election publicity

Isn't there something built into the premise of democracy which creates a responsibility for publicity around elections?

Working in London I have been painfully aware of the London Mayoral Election for months. I have no vote this time around, but am confident that when they do go to the polls, Londoners will have no cause to lament the lack of information on individual candidates or the parties for which they stand.

But a week ago I received my official postal poll card - seems we have local elections on May 1st too! I knew absolutely nothing about this (OK, so I have no TV aerial at the moment, but dont want much telly anyway). So this morning I got the postal voting slip through and now have to make my choice.

Assuming the voting slip lists the correct candidates this time around, it is now my job to research the candidates and make my choice. Here is what I have discovered:

Green Party
Looking at the voting slip, this man is my neighbour. Googling him brings up nothing at all, but the front page of the Green's website has a good size box pointing to local election info, and that page makes it very clear what they are all about. Big claps to the Greens for information provision. I have never voted them before, but this definitely keeps them in the running this time around.

Good gawd, what is North Herts coming to. Rather reluctant to even venture to their site at risk of encouraging them over their web traffic numbers. Very little indeed on this dude - not even a photo on the local paper's website. The BNP site looks like the kind of site a local carpet sales man would have.... far too much info to find what I need. I look closer... To be fair their policies are quite evident. Seems they want everyone to go away. Not my bag baby. I move on...

Liberal Democrats
Again, nothing comes up when googling the candidate (are local election candidates the only people left in the world who have no Google trail? I check by Googling my dad - yep, even he exists in GoogleWorld). Next stop the Lib Dem site... Now, I used to be a Lib Dem voter back in my idealistic student days. I loved Charles K so I want to be able to tell you all that the site was great - full of useful local election info and a full bio of the candidate. But sadly not. I look for a good couple of minutes but cannot even find the words "local election". If they can't be bothered then neither can I.

Judging by his name he may be my old English teachers hubby. But he may not. Now I should say up front that this candidate's people have called me twice. The first I lied to ("I am emigrating and won't be here on May 1st"), the second I flatly told I would never vote Labour. Still - good efforts from them. So, to Google. Reckoning he probably wasn't the grocer's assistant in the 1881 census (judging not least by his rather nice postcode!) I find lots of smiling pictures of him but not a lot of info. The Labour site - big claps. Clicking a button called "why vote labour on May 1st" takes you do a full local manifesto. I don't linger though - even the best website in the world wouldn't make me vote for these guys.

Can't find anything on the man, and bizarrely nothing at all on the Tory site. Rather surprised and disappointed. Nice big piccy of Boris but doesn't reassure me that the Tories know of a world beyond London. Their overarching policies (something about blue and green) are there, but nothing tailored to the local elections. I do like their front page links to social networks though. All very modern. One click away and I can add them on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo (are Bebo users old enough to vote?). Now I do actually know the man who advised them on their social network approach - and they seem to have sensibly followed his advice. Well done... now just need to tell me about the local elections!

Nothing on the candidate (this is getting silly!). I can see their manifesto, but think they need to work harder to explain why their defence policy and anti-EU policy is in any way relevant to local elections.

So what have we learnt?
- If someone runs in their party's name then the party should have a full biography of the candidate on the website (just covering MPs isn't enough)
- Acknowledge the local elections specifically and tailor your information to work on a local level
- If you are a candidate - get a website to tell me what you plan to do. If you have tried to knock on my door to tell me a) you will have reached few people and b) you will persistently miss me because I am never in.

Well I think my mind is made up. Off to pop my cross in the box.

Happy voting!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is PR or irresponsible editorial more evil?

This week I doubted the editorial policy of the Independent for the first time. Up until now the closest I had got to distain for the paper was brief but strong disgust over some of the more vivid cover photos they use, but in general I like the paper.

But this week they printed an article by a couple of professors from Strathclyde university which was utter nonsense. I don't usually talk about PR on my blog, nor do I overly defend it from the abuse the industry receives on a regular basis (abuse that lawyers and estate agents are also familiar with). But the fact is that PR is a fabulous industry to work in, and one that does a genuinely useful job; useful for journalists, corporations/charities, and useful for the general public.

These two lecturers are professors in Sociology, and noteably their biographies on their pet project site don't mention that they have ever actually worked in either journalism or PR themselves. It doesn't seem to stop them writing books about PR though...

So they have taken it upon themselves to write for the Indie (and the Indie has printed it without any sort of conscience about presenting a balanced viewpoint) about how PR is responsible for the death of democracy.

The thing that pisses me off most about this article (and yes, that is the first time I have used anything close to a swear word on this blog - I am that annoyed!) is that they largely confuse Public Relations with Public Affairs. Lobbying is usually deemed as PA rather than PR and most PR professionals rarely go near government affairs or lobbying.

In essence, PR is a clever marketing technique which helps guide consumers and businesses to part with their cash in a particular way. But broader than that PR enables organisations to communicate effectively with their public - whether it be a cancer charity looking to educate the men of Britain about prostate cancer or a technology vendor highlighting to customers a market dynamic that their product can help take advantage of. Most of what I do is about building reputations with a niche market (mobile messaging for example) targets mobile operators, not even consumers, and has nothing whatsoever to do with democracy.

To the intelligent consumer, PR ensures that the information they want to know is available to them and understandable by them. Journalists call my team and ask questions about our clients not because they are bad at their job but because they want to report correctly, and fact checking is a major part of their job. In turn, my team call the journalist to suggest an article idea because we are trained to think like journalists and know how to extract interesting stories from our clients.

Trust me - if the PR teams weren't around the quality of what you read would decrease dramatically because the information flow would stop (and if you had to read some of the ideas clients send through before we get our hands on them you would certainly stop buying the publication!)

PR is not evil... I certainly would not have known what laptop to buy a couple of months ago had there not been a wealth of online reviews supported by rafts of PR teams sending out reviews stock and answering journalist questions about hard disk capacity... and I can say with utter certainty that in 6 years in PR I have never done anything to jeopardise democracy.

Here endeth the lesson. Now, Professors, maybe go and get a few weeks work experience in an average PR agency before you write next time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Plan

In recent weeks I have hinted at a very exciting change coming up in my life. I have made promises of blog posts charting more than a daily commute (with which, dear reader, even you must be bored). I have all but abandonned the poor worms in their wormery and haven't lifted a paint brush for months. So what has everyone's favourite commuting, DIYing, greenie PR girl got up her sleeve?

Well today I can reveal it all.

Beloved reader I am off to Australia. To live. And work. For two years.

I haven't been able to tell because we have been working out the finer details but now I can fill you in.

It was an opportunity that my boss offered (I was certainly not planning on leaving Hotwire. Four and a half years on its still tech PR at its best, and some awesome people to boot). Its because having been bought by the Aussies in October we now have sister companies all over the place and the tech PR agency in Sydney needed a team member. And my boss thought of me.

So I am knocked right out of my comfy little cottage, cosy job and charming team and off to Sydney on June 3rd to start a new life at Kinetics.

I am so very very excited!

I have been desperately organising things like mortgage forms and chest x-rays but finally have the visa, flights, flat and job all sorted. Just got a million things left to do this end and I am off!

So hopefully more exciting posts will start shortly. Although there may be a bit more paint brush action required in my efforts to make my house rentable. Plus of course I will need to find a new home for the worms...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lucky stars

I had a really nice couple of days at the weekend and certain things that are on my mind made me stop and realise just how lucky I am.

It started small... the man down the road giving me a door he didn't want which (once stripped) will be perfect for my spare room... the rag and bone man arriving and ringing his bell about 14 hours after I thought to self 'I must find a way to get rid of that old TV arial...'

But then I realised it goes much deeper than that.

I love my family and am closer to both my sisters than I ever thought I would be (we argued when we were young, a lot!). I have a fabulous group of friends in Boo who never fail to make me laugh and keep me busy. I have a great job and am more successful at it than I could ever have imagined in my youth (I was very lazy. Still am, but hide it better). I own a pretty little house with a lovely garden (on which the sun is shining right now). I have majorly exciting things on the horizon over the next couple of years (more of that later) and generally feel like the world is my oyster.

Ah. Warms the heart. Without being too nausiating, I think its important that we spend at least as much time enjoying being happy as we seem to spend dwelling on life's little annoyances.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Popularity content

Quick... tidy up!! Oh nevermind where it lives - just shove it under a cushion... that's it. Now, smile!

Why? Oh sorry, I didn't explain in the panic. I have just heard from a friend at work that she has nominated me in a blog popularity contest. Yes, dearly beloveds, a popularity contest.

So two years of downloading thoughts on the world around me (indeed, thoughts on everything) are now going to be scrutinised by my colleagues!!!!

I refuse to be here when the viewings take place. Have a good peer around folks - I am heading out to my shed to tidy up out there. Shout when you leave.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some piccies of late

I wanted to share with you a few pictures I have snapped recently.

First, how pretty does my cherry tree look with all its blossom in the sun?

Then check out the chocolate brazils I made for my mummy on mothers day:

And finally you have to appreciate the ingenuity of this man, he obviously catches the 6.15pm every day and so thinks nothing of bringing his own chair...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hey! Let's go to Hay!

Today I am excited because I have remembered that my book clubbers and I are all off to the Hay Festival at the end of May. Folks I want to see there (and am now panicked about missing tickets, because I have already missed Clarkson) are:

Roger McGough
General Sir Mike Jackson
Allan Ahlberg
Marcus Brigstocke
Toby Young and Simon Pegg (How to lose friends and animate people)
Jools Holland

Please let the sun shine!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Let's be reasonable

If the property market crashes the media will have a lot to answer for.

The evening standard this evening tells of a Chelsea home that has slashed its price by £250,000. Well either it was stupidly over priced or its now a bargain, on a 2.5% market price drop. The market is still 1.1% up on last year for goodness sake!

Just how much were they trying to sell this (fabulously located) Chelsea home for???

Say it with flowers

If I was a flower I would be a yellow tulip.

This post is proof, if it were needed, that my walk to the station is looong and rather dull.

The characteristics of a yellow tulip with which I identify:

- they push through often frozen ground to establish themselves

- they grow anywhere the bulb is dropped

- they grow nicely with a little care and attention but do just as well when left alone

- they are the ultimate in independence, carrying all they need in their bulb

- they are persistent, coming back year after year

- they try to be cheery at all times, even keeping their heads up when their petals start to fall

What would you be?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Snow was falling, snow on snow

Its been snowy this weekend. But you don't need me to tell you that, you saw yourself.

This morning though I became a life-size snow man as I accumulated snow on my walk to the station. I would call it a blizzard but it wouldn't really be true...

There was lots of snow coming down fast. Cold and wet anyway.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Note to self

Indecisiveness twinned with a total lack of will power only leads to a big annoying headache.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A tale about people

I really really hate people who reserve seats for other people on busy commuter trains. If I get here before your friend that aint their seat its mine.

Now, while I really really hate this, (and I mean REALLY) I can't help thinking the man that just launched into a tyrade at a guy doing just this went a little OTT.

"Its occupied" Mr seat reserver said.

"by who?" said shouty man (not yet shouting at this point).

"my friend"

"well where is he?" shouty man justly asks.

After this, heretofor justified, line of questioning, shouty man started shouting. He even questioned whether reservey seat man *had* a friend (at all, was the gist I picked up).

Anyway the upshot was shouty man picked up reservey seat man's bag and sat down on the contested spot. Reservey seat man left the train in a huff, presumably to go somewhere to meet/make a friend.

So shouty man has a seat, as does lucky man who got on the train with perfect timing to claim the seat recently vacated by newly renamed huffy man. While I remain perched on the luggage rack (a resting place I secured by moving a suitcase to the floor... A manoever I managed without causing anyone to shout OR huff).

So now I hate reservey seat people, shouty people AND I envy lucky people.

... You decide

Pea and ham soup or a brie, cranberry sauce and crisps doorstep sandwich?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Social rules #2

Eating a bar of chocolate in public before 10am is nasty. And talking to yourself is weird.

And never, ever do both.

Update! ...a woody woodpecker ringtone is annoying and taking your mornings tablets by swigging from a litre bottle of diet coke is downright wrong. Now I understand why this was the last empty seat on the train.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Social rules #1

When sitting on a bench where your movements resonate, never swing your legs.

Queen Mab

I dreamt lots last night. Some short dreams, some longer, but oddly I remember lots of them.

Confusingly, they were all rather realistic and banal (opening the window, plugging in my blackberry to charge) so this morning I am having to check what I have and haven't done!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Homeless hobo...

Ok, not exactly homeless, but this week I am drifting from bed to bed, and rather looking forward to it!

Right now I am at the station in the sun after a lovely couple of days off (gardening in the sun, pub lunch, baby gazing...) and I am now heading to Fulham. I am off for dinner with my old housemate Is, and looking forward to a good chin wag. Fulham's a bit of a trek so I am staying over.

Tomorrow, after a meeting in Amazingstoke and a day of work I am off round pal Heather's pad in Angel for dinner and a giggle with Heather, Claire and Elle... And staying at Elle's...

On Thursday I head to work... And out the other end to drinks with the old Logica crew.

To be fair I will head home for an overnight bag refresh before I head to Cheltenham on Saturday for a weekend with Long Lost Zoe (and meeting her beau and sproglette).

Busy busy busy!! I needed the days off to collect my energy! (in which case Yabu's Tube fancy dress party on Saturday was probably a bad idea. Oh I haven't told you about it yet? Will do that another time :-)

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