Friday 21 October 2011

Journey of discovery

Breaking news! I can stop searching for my 'next big thing'. 
I've found it! 

I don't really want to say what it is until I've signed on the dotted line but assuming it all goes to plan, I shall be buying a franchise and running a marketing related business in my local area shortly.

I'm really excited about it. I know it's going to be hard work and I know it's not THAT far removed from PR (in fact if I wanted to, I could do PR but I will be thinking long and hard about that).

It's been weird this little journey of self discovery. I sold my PR business and didn't have an inkling of an idea of what I wanted to do. In fact, I went onto BBC Radio Berkshire and spoke to Anne Diamond for a full hour about how I didn't know what I wanted to do. Anne was convinced I did know and was just hiding it from her. Possibly the most ridiculous radio interview of all time (well obviously not quite as ridiculous as the whale interview).

In the last 7 weeks I have considered many jobs, including:

  • Trying out a different job every week for a year and then writing a book about the experience. I binned that idea because it was a huge amount of work for no money which didn't seem massively clever.
  • Writing a novel. I binned that idea because I have started a novel and thought with all the time on my hands that the ideas would come flowing out. They didn't. In fact my creativity seemed to die altogether. What's more, every blogger and their dog wants to write a novel. Gazillions of novels are written every year and few ever even get published, much less make the author any real money. I realised that my desire to 'write a book' was purely ego based, so that I could say that I was a published author. It wasn't likely to make me any money. Perhaps one day I will when my story hits me. Until then, that idea will be shelved.
  • Becoming a freelance writer. I very, very nearly signed up for a year long writing course and I have signed up for a photography course (which I'm doing over two weekends). But I realised that you don't make too much money being a freelance writer and what's more, I'd spend my life pitching story ideas to editors which was one of the reasons I wanted to leave PR in the first place. So that idea was dispensed with.
  • Cookery - I looked at this three ways. 1) To run a cookery school franchise where you teach kids/young adults to cook. But those franchises claim to be family friendly - yet expect you to run your classes after school and in the holidays. So what are you meant to do with your own kids? 2) Train as a chef and then set up my own private cookery school. I thought about this seriously but the training alone cost £14k and then the set up cost of a school was even more. 3) Running a coffee shop. This is a long held dream. But I think it comes down to the fact that I like eating cake and drinking coffee with friends, rather than working every minute of every day and wondering if I'll make ends meet. So I shall save my cookery for home and not try to earn a wage from it.
  • Set up an incredibly awesome website that would help more mothers to work flexibly around their children. It really annoys me that there is this wealth of talented women sitting at home wondering what to do with their lives/degrees/years of career experience when there are so few jobs that are suited to the demands of motherhood. This is still an area I believe passionately in and if I had a techy business partner who could front up A LOT of money to get the site developed, I still think it has legs. But there are challenges you take on because you know you can just about achieve them and challenges you don't because they are bigger than you. This was one of those. 
  • Going back into employment. I looked at a huge range of jobs including PR jobs (god forbid) and even sent off a few emails for them. I signed up to various websites for freelance work too. But my heart just wasn't in any of it.
  • I considered moving to the sea and buying a property with an annexe and running a B&B/holiday let. But that decision has a bit of an impact on the rest of the family and truthfully, I'm not sure it's right for me. Not now. Perhaps when the kids have left home and I can combine my baking/cooking/writing/yoga interests into some kind of holiday retreat for women who want to escape.
  • I researched franchises. Lots of them.
Just as I was getting ready to resign myself to a life of Kept Womandom, I found a franchise that seemed to tick all my boxes. 

And strangely, it was the boxes that had been clarified on this journey of discovery. What did I actually want from life? What is most important to me? I thought ego and doing something I am passionate about were right up there. A need to feel as though I'm doing something great. I felt that doing something I really loved was going to be more important than making money as long as I felt it was making a difference in some way.

Actually, what I want is to earn a good amount of money, enough to let us send our children to private school if we choose to. Enough to allow me to fly around the world to see my family. Enough to make me feel that I was seriously contributing to the household pot. And that's where the ego box gets checked, not from fame or selfless goodwill.

Also what I want is to have the flexibility to work the hours I want to work and go on holiday when I want to go, not having to ask permission from someone if I can go watch my children's Christmas play or apologising that I'm off work again because of a sick child. I want the freedom to see my children after school. I don't want to commute for hours. And I don't want to live to work. I want to work to live.

I want to know that I'm making a difference but that difference doesn't need to be saving rain forests or starving children in Africa. That would be lovely, but I'm more pragmatic than worthy. I have skills that I know I can use to help other businesses out there. In my own small way, that is how I'll make a difference.

My destination is not that far from my starting point but I've travelled a broad loop of discovery to get there. It's been a journey worth making and I'm immensely grateful that I've had the luxury of being able to do it. 

More soon once I've signed pieces of paper.....

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Marketing gone mad

Given that I'm a PR luvvy dahling (well ex now), I understand that the entire year is simply a series of marketing opportunities. What - you weren't aware of that? You thought life was actually about living? Bless. Let me educate you.

Christmas, New Year, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, April Fool's Day, Easter, Father's Day, Grandparents Day, Bank holiday Weekends, summer holidays, Back to School, Halloween, Bonfire Night - and those are just the biggies. Don't forget National Talk Like a Pirate Day, National Egg/baking/curry/meat/lentils/insert anything Week, World Book Day, Safety Awareness Week, International Make Up a Day Day. You get the point.

Marketers don't think like normal people. They live permanently a few months ahead of everyone else. While you might be washing the sand out of your sandals after that fab summer holiday thinking how lovely it was to spend time with your family, marketers are putting the finishing touches on their Christmas campaigns and are well into planning their New Year New You items and probably have Easter in the bag too.

I do understand that they can't exactly wake up on 1 December and suddenly think: 'Oh, there are just 24 shopping days till Christmas, perhaps we should have a chat about what products to make and then figure out how to package them and get them made and shipped to shops all before Christmas'. They have to work in advance.

But there is advance. And there's ADVANCE.

I took this picture in our local supermarket during the first week of September.

Are there actually people who buy their Christmas chocolates in the first week of September? Are these the same organised people who buy their 'back to school stuff' in June leaving the dregs for the rest of us who think their children will probably grow at least 10 inches over the summer? And let's not forget Easter eggs and hot cross buns being available right after Christmas. Because Lord knows we need another religious holiday to start stockpiling for months in advance, just in case the end of the world comes and we haven't got any Cadbury's cream eggs.

But it goes beyond how ridiculously far in advance they promote these 'marketing moments'. It's the extent to which marketers jump onto an idea (no matter how irrelevant it is to their business) and KTAOOI (that is an acronym I made up because I like the onomatopoeiac sound it makes - go on, say it out loud - it stands for Kick The Arse Out Of It).

There are many examples of this (all of which I'm now making up so that I don't get sued).

Things like: 'Sick of the nagging? With Christmas approaching, now's the time to get your divorce sorted out. Use Quickie Divorce and make every night a silent night.'


'It's Back to School at your local car dealership. Read our great prices, do the maths and get an A+ car deal.'


'It's pancake day. The perfect time to buy not just a frying pan, but an entire new kitchen. We'll throw in the free eggs.'

But today while I was out at the supermarket (again) I spotted what has to be my personal favourite completely irrelevant marketing link. Take a look:

Yes folks - that's Halloween-themed loo roll.

So, let me know what you think Andrex's thinking behind this innovation was:

a) Halloween party hosts pay attention to the finest details

b) It's a themed bog roll for 'wrap the mummy' games at halloween parties

c) It's part of a new campaign to celebrate special days. Because your bottom shouldn't be left out of the festivities. Wait for the Father Christmas and Easter bunny range to be pampering your bum soon.

d) For those phantom poos that you know you've done but cannot see in the toilet bowl

e) Halloween is so scary that you'll shit yourself

Go on, give me your pay off line. I might even buy the winning entry a pack of Halloween themed toilet paper.

PS - in case you're wondering, this is absolutely not a sponsored post.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Occupation: House person

I wish I had some news to report about what my Next Big Thing is going to be.

I don't.

However, last night I got to experience the full force of my newly unemployed status. I was on the phone to the bank trying to set up a joint bank account with my husband (so that I can steal his money when I run out of my own). The lady on the phone was going through my personal details.

Bank Lady: "Occupation? It says here that you're self employed. Is that correct?"

Me: Mulls this over.... "Actually, technically I'm not. I did have a business and I sold it. And now I'm trying to figure out what to do next. I might get a job. Or I might start another business. Which would then make me self employed again. But I'm not too sure what that's going to be yet. It's really hard trying to figure it out you know. So no, I'm not really self employed any more. But I might get employed by someone else but I don't know in which career that is going to be yet. Which makes me sound a bit pathetic doesn't it? Gosh, I'm not really too sure how to answer that question."

Long suffering Bank Lady: "Shall we say 'House Person'?"

Me: "A what?"

Bank Lady: "A House Person. You know, someone who stays at home."

Me: "Er... yes, I guess that's exactly what I am."

How crushing. A House Person. Not even a House Wife or Mother. It would be politically incorrect to make either of those assumptions but they at least indicate that you might be helping to make the lives of some other people easier. Just a House Person. I guess that is better than being a Homeless Person. And I do like Houses. My pre-occupation with Right Move is testimony to that.

But House Person doesn't sound terrifically glamorous does it?

Luckily, as I've recently discovered in a marvellous book called Watching the English by Kate Fox, it is rude to ask what someone does for a living (unless you're a bank lady setting up a bank account). In a section titled The Guessing-Game Rule, Kate says: "It is not considered entirely polite, for example, to ask someone directly 'What do you do?'.....The guessing game, which is played at almost every middle-class social gathering where people are meeting each other for the first time, involves attempting to guess a person's occupation from 'clues' in remarks made about other matters." 

So in a dinner party situation where a high achieving individual is trying to winkle out what I do, I could quite legitimately say, "I'm a House Person". And according to Kate, "when two or three possible occupations are indicated, it is polite to name the highest-status one as a first guess". So their response would have to be something like: "A House Person. Fascinating - do you invest in property then? No. You're a property search consultant or an interior designer perhaps? Please don't tell me you're an estate agent?" (Kate has an entire chapter on why the English hate estate agents).

And I can just laugh and say, "Of course I'm not an estate agent!" and whisk off leaving them none the wiser that I actually spend my days loafing about trying to figure out what I want to be when I'm big.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Be somebody

My husband has been away for what feels like an eternity. But one good thing that comes of his trips abroad is that I get to watch a LOT of trash TV, stuff that wouldn't ordinarily be allowed to flicker across our screens.

While watching the X-Factor and Pushy Mums, I kept hearing the same sentence expressed over and over again:

'I want to be somebody'

This line was usually followed with words like:
"I can't go back to my old life of being a nobody."
 "Why would anybody want to be a nobody?"
"I want to be special"
"I want to be a somebody like Katie Price" (this last one is particularly worrying!)

I take no issue with people having ambition. But there are two things that sadden and worry me about the sentiment behind these words.

1. Firstly, these people view being famous as 'being somebody'. They don't want to be 'somebody' who can invent a cure for cancer or enable world peace or even simply be a really good singer for singing sake. 'Somebody' means having people recognising you in the street and screaming your name. They want the wealth, luxury, status and ego that goes with being 'somebody'.

Steve Jobs - he was a somebody. He invented products that have changed the way we as a society communicate, work and play. Now that's being somebody. Yet you don't get kids queuing up to be Britain's Best Inventor, bursting into floods of tears when their science experiments get the chop at boot camp (maybe ITV has this reality show in the pipeline - if not, perhaps I'll suggest it).

But would kids today think Steve Jobs was somebody? I asked my boys if they knew who Steve Jobs was. They didn't. I asked if they knew who the company was that made daddy's ipad. They said Apple. So they knew something. Intrigued about how much more they knew, I asked if they knew who the founder of Microsoft was. They asked: 'What's Microsoft?' A sign of the app-based times perhaps?

Isn't it a shame that children can name famous footballers and pop stars and actors but have barely heard of the great innovators in the world? I suppose they'd be ridiculed as geeks if they had posters of Bill Gates and Michael Dell and Steve Jobs and Richard Branson and James Dyson stuck on their walls. But imagine how different the world would be if kids believed that innovating and using your brain was cool instead of being able to warble a tune or kick a ball?

2. Secondly, what really, really saddened me is how so many of the people on these shows believe that without fame, they are nothing. A nobody.

Don't they realise that they are someone's child, someone's mum or dad, someone's brother/sister/teacher/work colleague/congregation member/member of society? Don't they realise that every single person has the potential to be something great and that greatness can be incredibly quiet and unassuming?

I know that secretly I would love to be able to achieve something extraordinary - no matter what that is - so that on my deathbed I could look back and feel proud that I made the most of my life. But it's highly likely that I won't invent the next big thing or become a world famous singer. I'll live an ordinary, unremarkable life. One that the people on those TV shows would describe as 'a nobody'.

But I know the truth. I am a somebody. To the people who matter the most. And that's what counts.

Sunday 2 October 2011


Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

I watch you sleep.

A quiet tongue-clicking noise. A flutter of lashes. A turn of head just a fraction to the left so that the light picks up the perfect lattice work of your skin. Hair tousled and slightly damp with sweat. Smooth, unlined forehead, not yet worried by life. Almond shaped eyes decorated with a curtain of curled lashes. A nose that dips away before gently sloping upwards to make a perfect button. Full lips slightly puckered, dehydrated from the air passing in and out. Smooth cheeks dotted with a collection of small freckles, nonchalantly scattered with perfect precision.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Your throat swallows, an angel sigh. My eyes follow the line down your long neck, spreading out to a soft expanse of virgin skin on your chest. Soft as butter on top, hard as wood beneath. Sinew and lean potential-packed muscle lie at rest while your chest subtly rises and falls. Rises and falls. Your arms are splayed, fingers curled into fists as though you're fighting an unseen foe.

I lightly touch your forehead with a finger tip. Sticky, soft and warm. I lean over and breathe in the smell of you. Sleep. Soap. Little boy. I kiss the tip of your nose. It wrinkles. I long to kiss you again but don't want to wake you. 

So I just watch instead. 

Breathe in. 

Breathe out.