I'm focusing on people's Next Steps for the rest of the year and so visiting the start of the Marathon seemed the perfect topic to restart my blog with. We stood at the Red Start and it took 28 minutes for all the runners who'd been lining up in Greenwich Park to pass us - and what a fantastic, amazing bunch of people we saw - congratulations everyone!
I want to thank Barry Sheerman, MP, for suggesting I donate money from the sale of book to Crisis. I thought I had covered all kinds of #NormalXmas with my research across the country, but now realised that, whether people like real or artificial trees and add white or coloured lights (or even a mixture); whether they choosing turkey, goose, Beef Wellington or macaroni cheese for Christmas Dinner and whatever their views are on tinsel, they all did have one thing in common after all. Everyone I interviewed had homes. While I was busy writing about stockings v.s. pillow cases and being amazed by all the different times people open their presents on the big day, I missed that of course everyone in my book has presents and homes to open them in. Through talking to Crisis I now know more about a whole other Normal - people who are homeless at Christmas. No decorations or trees full of much-loved baubles, nothing left out for Santa, no presents, just no homes. That's heartbreaking. I'm proud to be giving 20% of profits from sales of 'The Normal British Christmas?' to Crisis and in full admiration of the 10,000 volunteers who will be helping serve meals (and more) with Crisis at Christmas this year. Thanks volunteers. Thanks Crisis. Thanks Barry. (And if you're buying the book – http://bit.ly/NormalXmas – thanks to you too!)
So much has happened this year, and I realised I haven't blogged since this time last year. I have been busy... I might catch up on Blogs over the holidays but have to mention the books of the second half of this year – Baizdon published Treasures of The Guildhall Art Gallery in June and the physical copy of The Normal British Christmas? at the end of August. The latter seemed early to us, only to discover that all the big stores had selected their Christmas books by the beginning of May. Promoting the book has been a huge task and a huge learning curve (lots of tales to tell) but we had a great launch in Soho (Father Christmas was a hoot) we are in lots of local shops (thanks to all), have done a series of book signings at different WHSmith stores and are donating 20% of profits to Crisis. Ok, more soon.
This was a quote from The Normal British Christmas? and certainly was what I wished for you and yours this year. I hope it was a wonderful time and that you are enjoying these days at the end of the year.
While the decorations are still up I wanted to share the story behind the book and the fun I had researching it. The Normal British Christmas? is about how those of us that celebrate Christmas all do the same things very differently (very differently in some cases) and how we don't expect that. If you've ever shared someone else's Christmas you'll know how easy it is to get everything very 'wrong'. I know we would expect Christmas to be different if we were celebrating with a family from another country and I fully appreciate that someone from another culture has different festivals from mine that they celebrate, but I thought those of us that celebrate Christmas, well we're all doing the same stuff - shopping, decorations, Christmas trees, stockings, presents, turkey, crackers, eating more food than humanly seems possible and playing Monopoly. Ok, I did appreciate that maybe not everyone wants to play Monopoly and watch The Sound of Music on Boxing day but basically my understanding was that, for the most of us, all of you that did Christmas did it like me. This thinking tripped me up when I spent my first Christmas with my now-but-not-then husband and his family. (You can read the intro in the 'look inside' feature on Amazon here if you want to know what happened.)
The research I've done over the last few years has been tremendous fun and I feel privileged to have had a peek at what happens in everyone's homes at Christmas - a time that I realised that, because we're all spending time with our own friends and family, we don't see what anyone else does. Hence so easy to assume we all do the the same. I found my research conversations often started the same way as people told me, 'We have the traditional Christmas', or 'Just the usual stuff' or (my favourite) 'All normal for us'. Then I'd say, so tell me about your day and they'd start:
None of the above seemed normal to me, all very much Not Normal in fact! (Although I half wished I'd thought of the disappearing stockings idea when my son was small and would wake up at 5am wanting to open his).
Along with the funny and rather outrageous (although not to them) family traditions, people shared lots of the very poignant and quite wonderful things they do as well (which made me both laugh and cry). I ended up with 2.5k quotes which I divided into 21 festive sections and then edited down to the final 573 quotes. My original idea had been to write the book myself, about what people did - but when it came down to it I realised that using everyone's quotes meant not only the Christmas traditions of the British public would be shared but their voices too and I found this enhanced the collection. It has become a book about what people do and how they express it.
For 2015 it is an Ebook and we are planning a printed version for 2016. I knew from the research that people liked talking about their Christmas - even the shyest people become voluble and just smile and smile while they recount their Christmas times - but I wasn't sure whether people would like reading about everyone else's Christmas. Early signs are good, it seems like they do. I hope you do.
The Normal British Christmas? is available to buy or to give as a gift on Amazon here and on iBooks too. And if you would like to tell me of any of your family traditions or how you do your Christmas please do, I'd love to hear them. There's space in the 2016 edition for a few more entries...
The inspiration for this book happened a very long time ago, it resurfaced after the 2014 Christmas and I did lots more research, ending up with 2.5k quotes about how people celebrated. November arrived and it was in danger of languishing in my drawer for another year when I thought whatever happened to Just Do It? Had I forgotten I was a Nike Athlete for eight years? Ok, I decided - I'll do it and set aside a whole three days to write it up, telling the family I'm concentrating on the book this weekend, I'll be finished by Monday... Three weeks later (over ambitious as ever) it was out. Just Do It - Done! A month before Christmas - phew! Thanks to all my contributors.
Have been to Poland, released two new Baizdon guides and finally written my Christmas book. Lots to catch up on for blogs - will add some news and pictures over the Christmas break I think!
Lord Foster has signed prints of The Gherkin Guide to be awarded to the highest fund raising individual and team in the 2015 Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC. This year he has added a personal 'Well Done' to his signature. We, the event steering committee, are delighted and very grateful for his support and for the communications team Foster + Partners who ensured my request reached Lord Foster. We all hope the goal of receiving one of the signed, framed one-metre prints inspires participants to reach great heights, both on the day and in their fundraising!
Maybe you'll win this year? http://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/events/the-gherkin-challenge/
It's early evening at the Gherkin and Richard Charnock, CEO of Standard Life Wealth, is welcoming guests to the beautiful Cathedral Room on the 34th floor. Richard talks about how pleased Standard Life are to partner with Scope to support the work they do, breaking down barriers for disabled people and running a range of services to ensure our society is a fair place for disabled people and their families.
I follow on and talk about the Gherkin, sharing some things guests may not know about this extraordinary building. I then have the pleasure of introducing a couple who are permanent carers for a disabled child as well as providing respite care for other Scope foster children at the weekends and in school holidays. Everyone is moved by what the couple have achieved for the little boy who, since living with the family, has developed more than medical professionals thought possible. They end by talking about the support Scope has given them and then Andrew Macdonald from the charity speaks about how Scope plans to expand the fostering service. Which can only be a great thing.
Recently I was delighted to help OSTC welcome a group from Poland to the Gherkin for the third year running. The 2015 London Study Excursion was led by the impressive Dominik Keil and the Gherkin was the first stop in a packed schedule of visits across the City and Canary Wharf
Have you been to Tower Bridge recently? If so I hope you've enjoyed the glass floors in the high-level walkways and Baizdon's Tower Bridge 360 which is on sale as you go in and in the Tower Bridge Exhibition shop. News is that our splendid image of the bridge is now on a range of merchandise in the shop, rulers, book marks, chocolates and two jigsaws. This is a first for us and the whole team excited.
Plans for this year's event have been shaping up - there's so much happening on the Gherkin plaza and at the top of the building looks like it will be even better than last year! And of course the work of the NSPCC seems more important than ever. Please join us if you can.
Presenting at Walton Castle recently was great. I led three Next Step sessions, Robert Craven ran three sessions on maximising business success and attendees got to try archery and enjoy either breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea. Robert and I didn't suffer from too much deja vu (always a slight worry when you do three sessions on the same day, have I already told this story to this group, or was that the last one, or shall I tell it now...) and we practised fencing in Walton Castle's glorious grounds in the breaks (well we had fun posing for the photo anyway). Robert was brilliant to work with, if you get a chance to listen to him grab it. Walton Castle is the perfect events venue too and hosts Franco de la Croix-Vaubois and Tracey Farquhar-Beck handle everything perfectly. waltoncastle.com
Stayed over at Le Manoir - everything perfect as always. I arrived early to relax a little first (and it really is the most marvellous place to relax) then pick up husband from train station, he just has time for shower and steam in the room (yes, bathroom has a steam room - choice of fragrant oils) and we go into dinner. Fabulous. All delightful, all as expected.
What was unexpected was the amazing tour of the gardens we had the next day. Our tour guide, John, was so interesting and the gardens so extensive and splendid the morning whizzed by. The gardens grow a lot of food used in the kitchens, the micro herbs used in salads and for garnish were fascinating - we enjoyed tasting Vietnamese coriander (Raymond Blanc's favourite), the Aztec herb stevia (naturally super sweet) and sorrel (which tasted like Granny Smith apples). On the apple note they are currently growing 70 old forgotten varieties of apples in one of the orchards here. I love the fact that however successful Raymond is he still keep starting new projects, he is recently helped design a new garden at Kew. Amazing man.
Gardeners John and Kate, along with Head-Gardener Anne Marie all give tours of the gardens for guests or day visitors. Go if you can.
As I entered Nike London HQ a crowd had gathered and everyone was talking about running shoes. Not unusual (the talking about shoes bit). But these were unusual running shoes. These were sitting on top of a gold box and had #ThanksPaula emblazoned in diamonte on the side. These were shoes for Paula Radcliffe, who would be running her last London Marathon two days later. Her marathon record of 2.15.25 remains unbroken. It was a privilege to see. Brendan Foster's voice-over on the Nike video says it all:
What an Athlete.
What a Pioneer.
What an Inspiration."
Last year it was with great pleasure that I presented Barinder Randhawa her framed print of The Gherkin Guide, one of two that Lord Foster kindly signed for the top fundraisers for the 2014 NSPCC Gherkin Challenge. Barinder, who raised the most funds as an individual, was delighted to be back at the top of the Gherkin, "I'm less tired this time" she said smiling, understandable as we travelled up by lift and last time she ran all the way up to the 40th floor... Barinder was just lovely, her three children were very proud of her achievement she said and so all excited to see the print with Norman Foster's signature.
Looking forward, the 2015 Gherkin Challenge is on Sunday September 6th and is looking like it will be another fantastic day. Go on, join us and Make Every Step Count! You can register here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-gherkin-challenge-2015-registration-15351083504 Use the code NSPCCINT15 and get a second place free.
At Baizdon we are working on an interesting new product for the Tower Bridge Exhibition and, as part of the research for this, we get to go to a secret room in the South Tower - so secret many staff haven't been there! To reach it you have to climb a winding staircase and then bend-yourself-in-half and squeeze through a tiny doorway. You find yourself a small windowless room full of plan chests which, in turn, are all full of original drawings* of Tower Bridge at various stages of its construction. While our technical illustrator is soon in raptures about steel girder placement, bolt angles and accumulator cross-sections, I am transfixed by names and dates. 'Bridge Master Received 1959' is stamped on one, '16-11-36, Clarke, Chapman and Barry of Gateshead on Tyne' on another. I enjoy finding several documents with 'R.B. Hilton of Blackheath, SE3, 1921' (and immediately wonder if the practice still exists and whether it's near my house) but most of all I am delighted when I find 'The Office of Sir John Wolfe Barry & Partners, 1937'. The drawings are old and crumbling but the bridge they represent is standing strong and has gone on to become the Most Famous Bridge In The World. Sir John Wolfe Barry would be very proud.
*The original drawings all belong to the City of London and the majority have been taken to the London Metropolitan Archives where you can arrange to view them.
I'm headed to Addis Ababa in April to run a Leadership programme for the senior team of Girl Hub Ethiopia. The charity is a strategic collaboration between DFID and the Nike Foundation, acting together to transform the lives of adolescent girls. www.girleffect.org/2015 As seven of the eight team members joined in January 2015 it was great timing for the group to take time out from their (very busy) schedules to focus on working together as a cohesive unit and examine the best ways to deliver results for the organisation. The leadership programme was followed by a team building event for the whole office based around enhancing cross cultural working. The whole week was fantastic. Girl Hub Ethiopia is doing some amazing work in the country and I thoroughly enjoyed supporting them.
I had the following weekend in the capital which was brilliant, Addis is a very interesting, cosmopolitan city with lots happening. Saturday was a visit to the National Museum, highlights being a statue of Haile Selassie on his horse for Sisay (lovely Girl Hub driver) and Lucy for me, the world's earliest human (her skeleton was discovered here and my son studied her in school, she's tiny!) Everyone had recommended Tomoca (the oldest coffee shop in Ethiopia) they were right - coffee was delicious and the shop beautiful. Sisay drove me to the long street that sells traditional clothes where I got a shirt for my son (different style here to the one I got him from Sierra Leone) and a cute dress for my friend's little daughter. Sunday was lunch and a traditional coffee ceremony with Office Manager Tsegey and her lovely family. Thanks Tsegey! Thanks also to Liz and Bronia of Aspire Leadership for recommending me for the job. Appreciated.
It's so refreshing to be at an event at the top of the Gherkin and not be the MC or the Speaker. This year they have a photo booth and although Francesca and I resist the hats and glasses (and the optional wind machine) we break the rules and take our champagne in the booth (the same champagne that I never, ever drink when I am working at an event). Thanks Searcys, it was great fun.
I was MC of the first Everywoman Conference for T-Systems, an event devised and organised by the effervescent Claire Parker who has been instrumental in starting, developing and expanding the Everywoman @ T-Systems Community. 70 women attended the day and the keynote speakers were Debra Searle, MBE and Liz Jackson, MBE. Although both very different, with very different stories, they have several things (apart from their MBEs) in common - both were brilliant, charismatic, entertaining and truly inspiring.
The entire event was fantastic. T-Systems HR director Sarah Sandford welcomed everyone and set the scene for the day then I took over, introducing Lynn 0'Connor and Nav Randower who co-chair BP's Womens Network. Liz came next, then after a networking lunch I ran a session about Realising Vision (which fits in perfectly with my work on The Next Step). Claire Parker and Jackie Elliott had brought a huge array of materials for a practical visioning exercise which everyone loved and then Debra finished the day.
To top it all Parallel Blue organised the event - wonderful, creative, efficient people who always ensure a winning experience - always a pleasure to work with them.
One of my favourite events last year was 'Fabulous Women' at the Gherkin. I was host and MC to an invite only evening for 35 of the City's top women that Searcys asked me to organise. I had decided to add Libby Hart to the guest list as, while not a City woman herself, she dresses so many of them through her Libby London label it made sense she should be there - and of course everybody loved her. Searcys then invited Libby to hold a Pop Up Boutique for their Members the next month which was great fun too. I loved seeing everyone heading along the glass walkway to the Ladies (lovely big mirrors inside) with armfuls of dresses to try on and then coming back wearing their choices to show Libby. Combined with all the champagne and a front row of Members agreeing everyone looked gorgeous, it really felt as if the Gherkin was suddenly part of London Fashion Week. Her clothes are quite lovely - do take a look libbylondon.com