A love letter to Christchurch

It’s been a busy few weeks. Since my last post there has been a whirlwind European bus tour, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and some very long flights from London to China to New Zealand and back again. So there’s a lot to catch up on. Phew.

First and foremost though, I want to talk about Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s largest cities. In February 2011 the city was devastated by a large earthquake which took 185 lives and caused mass destruction. We visited Christchurch nearly three years after the quake and it was a moving experience to see the city’s slow recovery. Some areas have been repaired or rebuilt but huge areas of the city, particularly in the red zone, have been replaced by grey rubble. These fenced-off areas could look like a war zone but the people of Christchurch have turned their city into somewhere really special. They’ve brought colour, life, creativity and spirit to their city. It’s inspiring to see.

Where there were office buildings and shops there are now art installations, street murals, pop-up businesses and a shopping mall built entirely of colourful shipping containers stacked on top of each other. In the city’s nooks, crannies and open spaces you will find delightful surprises such as the coin-operated ‘dance-o-mat’, a space for people to play music and dance as they please. You’ll find oversized outdoor furniture, giant chess boards, life-sized snakes and ladders, rainbow-coloured benches to rest your weary feet, 1960’s inspired psychedelic flowers painted on the footpath and many more surprises.

The food and drink! Oh, the food and drink

Many of Christchurch’s beloved cafes have reinvented themselves following the quake. I highly recommend visiting C4 coffee shop and C1 espresso. The fresh juice stall within Cashel St’s Re:START mall made me a mouth-wateringly good carrot, apple and ginger juice.

I enjoyed some of the best food I’ve had in years during our visit to Christchurch. I had been reliably informed that the garlic naans at Riccarton’s Arjee Bhajee were ‘off the hook’ – and they were. So much, in fact, that we ate there twice. Once in the evening (the venison and portobello mushroom curry is amazing, as is the lamb saag) and once on their fixed-price weekday lunch menu (get the lamb bhutuwa, you won’t regret it). Average cost: $10 per person for lunch, $30-35 per person for dinner including naan and beer.

Dinner that evening was at Spice Paragon, a new-build Thai restaurant in Riccarton. Four of us shared the melting beef cheek, the tempura fish with mango salad and the mussaman lamb curry. Add scallop starters, creme-brulee desserts and a bottle of the Mt Difficulty riesling to the mix and I was in food heaven. Bliss. Average cost: $50 per person for a heavenly three-course feed.

And the beer! We had a great time sampling beers at new pop-up speakeasy Volstead, before heading to Harlequin Public House, an amazing new restaurant and cocktail bar/speakeasy in Ironside House, opposite Victoria St’s Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower. The clock tower is an eery memorial to the 2011 quake: it is half the height it used to be and its hands are stopped at 12:52, the time of the quake.

Street art

Wandering around Christchurch you’ll spot many a painted mural – many of them with evocative messaging or memorials to the quake. It feels very East-London-meets-Berlin which meant, of course, that I LOVED IT as those are two of my favourite places in the world.

I first visited Christchurch as a small child in 1991, then again as a boozy student in 2005. I spent a few days in the backpacker’s hostel just opposite the now-ruined cathedral and this trip gave me chills to see what the quake had done to that building. This was my third visit and I have to say: I always loved Christchurch. Now I love it even more fiercely, and differently: there’s respect, sorrow and inspiration in the mix now. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Check out Christchurch, chur

A guide to the city’s thriving pop-ups

A guide to the ‘gap filler’ art installations and other fun surprises

The Re:START mall

Neat Places, a great guide to what’s new and fun in Christchurch


Ghosts of flatmates past: corporate branded mugs

Today marked a real turning point for me. I’ve been bedridden with the flu since Saturday: not a wimpy ‘mini flu’ but the real deal. The proper, old-fashioned, take to your bed for five days kinda thing. It was awful. I forgot to get my flu jab this year (sorry Mum) which was foolish.

I’ve been religiously getting a pre-winter flu jab for as long as I remember but for whatever reason, I just ‘didn’t get round to it’ this year. But I digress.

Today’s communication insights are brought to you by a corporate branded mug from a company I will not name.

A muggins moment

I realised I was on the mend earlier today when I was immensely irritated – and then hysterically amused – by a mug. A MUG. Of all the things to cheer me up and make me feel like myself again. It was a momentous occasion for three reasons: firstly I felt well enough to walk down three flights of stairs to make myself a hot drink, and then carry it all the way back up to my room without getting dizzy and needing to stop on the landing.

Secondly, I managed to find a clean mug. I live with seven other people and our crockery has a cute habit of either festering or disappearing. When you do find something, odds are, it’s going to be mismatched and nobody will claim ownership of it. Hence my discovery of this ‘motivational’  mug that looks like it wandered into the flat at some point during 2006 and hid under the sink until this morning.

Thirdly, I recognised my inner grump was returning when I looked at the mug and got ragey. The return of the inner grump means I’m pretty much healed.

Here’s the mug. I’ve expressed how I feel about this mug via font snobbery in a very mature fashion.
Shit Mug

Why this mug sucks

I’ve mentioned before that my day job is in a corporate communications environment. I’ve also mentioned that I really like my job but some things make me cranky. ‘Message mugs’ are one of these things. If I was in a dramatic mood (let’s be real, I am) they’ve been the bane of my life since my first foray into corporate communications in 2007.

Here are my issues with this specific ‘message mug’:

  1. Too many catch-phrases: ‘continous improvement’, ‘exciting opportunities and processes’ – nobody talks like this!
  2. It uses ‘striving’, one of my most hated words in a corporate environment
  3. The copy is so, so patronising
  4. It’s unclear what they were trying to achieve by spending presumably quite a bit of cash on several of these bad boys
  5. There are way too many words for the format that the message is printed on. It’s a mug.  It’s not a brochure or leaflet that you settle down to read at leisure, it’s a piece of crockery.

Making mugs (and other collateral) work for you

  1. My gut feel is that you shouldn’t do ‘message mugs’ in the first place. Chuck your logo on your mugs, for sure, but if you really care about building employee awareness of your new vision/values/behaviours, find new and engaging ways of getting face time with them. Hell, if you printed your messages on biscuit wrappers you’d probably achieve better results than stamping them on mugs (I have no hard data for this claim: I am just a sucker for biscuits). But I do promise you can afford to let your employees enjoy a cup of freakin’ tea in peace. They won’t become disengaged by not having your messaging in their face every second of every day. 
  2. If you must do a mug, reduce the wordcount and simplify your communication objective to one thing: awareness, and awareness only. Just put one thing on there: either the company vision or the four key value words. That’s it.  Plus your logo.
    I assume whoever made this mug was aiming to achieve awareness of the corporate vision (the first sentence) and the corporate mission statement (the second sentence). This is already two concepts and they should’ve stopped there. But they’ve gone on to also outline some corporate behaviours to generate employee understanding of what these two concepts look like in action. Great in theory, and something that communicators need to do – just not on a mug!
  3. Start thinking about other stuff like face-to-face conversations. Asking your people to feed into what the new behaviours should be. Engaging with senior influencers so they model the behaviours you’re trying to promote. Setting up dedicated staff awards to recognise those who do embody the changes you’re trying to promote internally. Having real conversations with real people about why this stuff matters, how it can impact the bottom line – but avoiding big pompous words.
  4. You can definitely achieve general low-level awareness through things like mugs, just don’t expect anything more than that from this particular format. So don’t spend lots of cash on the ‘fluffy’ stuff like posters and mugs. If you’re after greater understanding and sustained behaviour change, invest in regular, relevant communications across a variety of channels – once the mugs are out there of course 😉

If you’re not familiar with communication objective setting and the stakeholder commitment curve (Awareness, Understanding, Commitment, Action) you might find this worth a read.


Listening to: Itchin’ On A Photograph by Grouplove

Brunch in Brixton Village

Brixton Village is the place to be seen in London at the moment. The food is tasty, the culture is vibrant and the hipsters are a-plenty.

I am not cool at all so I didn’t discover the delights of the Brixton food scene until very recently. We trekked south of the river on a windy Saturday just before St Jude hit England.

Overwhelmed by the very many food options, I resorted to a Twitter plea along the lines of ‘Help! What should I eat?’. Luckily my co-workers are food geeks too and I received several enthusiastic tips within the space of ten minutes. Yay for geekery! I was feeling a bit hungover tired and overwhelmed by the crowds so we nabbed a seat at ‘the mexican place’ and ordered up large.

El Panzon mexican

To start, we shared a platter of tortilla chips with guacamole, sour cream and salsa. Portion size isn’t an issue here – the platter was nearly overflowing onto the table. The tortilla chips were fresh, crunchy and delightful but the salsa was lacking in kick.

Our second starter (ooh naughty) was the fish tacos, adorned with regular-spice-level- sauce. Wish I’d gone for the ‘fuck I’m dead’ sauce as ‘regular’ should have been labelled ‘bland’. I’d heard rave reviews about these tacos and while they were lovely, I was a wee bit underwhelmed for some reason. They weren’t as zesty or tangy as similar dishes I’ve had before.

For a main I got stuck right into a pulled pork burrito with all the trimmings and hot-level hot-sauce. The meat was tender, the fillings were juicy and generous, but again, I wish I’d gone for the ‘fuck I’m dead’ sauce as the meal just wasn’t giving me the spice kick I was after. I mean, Mexican street food in a foodie jaunt that taunts you with it’s claims to spiciness? Can do better, El Panzon. The basics are there but the extras aren’t.

The verdict: 3.5/5

In a sentence: Nice, but give me a £6 Chilango burrito any day of the week: tastier with ‘zingier’ flavours and spicier sauces. Of course, now I want to go back to Brixton Village and try ‘the crepe place’ and ‘the seafood place’ that were our second choices. I’ve been reliably informed that El Panzon’s soups are ace.

Location etc: El Panzon, Brixton Village Market, 1 Granville Arcade, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, SW9 8PR, London


Listening to: Burn by Ellie Goulding

36 hours in Prague

Imagine a Gothic Disney-style castle with dark towering spires. Overlooking a cobbled square with copper statues, horse carts, hog roasts and crepe vendors. Add craft beer and strip bars to the mix and you’ve got Prague, a city of sleaze-and-beauty, rather than Sleeping Beauty. It was my first trip to the Czech Republic and my fellow travellers were Prague-virgins too.

  • The digs Our crew rented a six-bed apartment in the Downtown Apartments complex, a five-minute walk from the Old Town central square. The apartment was spacious and warm, with a wee kitchenette for much-needed morning fry-ups. It worked out to £37.50 per person – bargain much?
  • The airline  We flew Easyjet from Gatwick. It was shithouse actually – our flight was delayed by five hours. But on the plus side it turns out Easyjet pay each passenger €250 compensation when this happens. Who knew? Effectively our flights were free with spare change on top 🙂

Prague in a day-and-a-half
So here’s the deal: you’ve made it to Prague, finally, but you’re dishevelled and harassed from the previously-mentioned flight dramas. Here’s what you should do to perk right up again.

1. Eat at Bakeshop Because you’ll want an awesome feed for the day ahead. You’ll have to fight for a window table but it’ll be worth it. I sampled the pumpkin and feta tart, side salad and some of the ham & cheese quiche. The lattes are decent enough, bit on the giant side. This ain’t a cheap place, I spent 500 koruna (roughly £15) to feed two of us. But the rest of the city is so cheap you won’t care. Bakeshop: Kozí 918/1.

2. Explore the square. The buildings in the Old Town Square are amazing and there are crazy gargoyles everywhere. See the famous clock if you must (it puts on a little show every hour on the hour) but it was pretty underwhelming. Hell, I’d even say it’s shit and don’t bother – but you probably will, coz someone said the same thing to me and I went anyway. The food stalls in the square are delish, especially the hog roast.

3. Beer stop! It’s tough work being on holiday. You’re lucky there’s an amazing hidden bar underneath the square. Opposite the clock is an unassuming alleyway that takes you past a Starbucks. Go just past the Starbucks and you’ll see the signs for U Zlate Konvice, an underground haven of delicious beer and taxidermied animals. Very Gothic. As far as Prague goes the beers are pricey at 98 koruna each (roughly £3), compared to 30-ish at other places (£1). U Zlate Konvice: Melantrichova 477/20.

4. Shop at the junk markets behind the square. Buy shit you don’t need. Someone in our crew bought a Russian doll toy that was painted to look like members of the All Blacks rugby team, complete with a teeny tiny Piri Weepu in the middle of it. As you do, Prague. As you do.

5. Another beer stop! Since the first one didn’t quite hit the spot, you need another beer, obvs. Our second stop was for an outdoor beer at Lavka Club, overlooking the famous Old Town Bridge. The beers were cold, the blankets were snuggly and the sun was starting to set. Nice. Lavka Club: Novotného lávka 201/1.

6. Photos on the famous ‘statue bridge’ as the sun sets. The Old Town Bridge is one of the prime landmarks and is also an ace spot for photobombing other people’s pictures…

7.  Yet another beer stop! With chips! It was getting cold, so we needed even more beer. A friend had recommended we try The Pub, where you can order casks for your table, but it turns out you need a reservation to get a seat on a Saturday so we couldn’t get in. Just around the corner from The Pub we stumbled across Kozlovna and I am Glad That We Did. The beers were cheap and plentiful and the staff were hilarious. My memory gets a bit hazy here but I am pretty sure two rounds of large beers, plus chips and some shots of the local nut liquer, set us back about £20 equivalent. Tops. Kozlovna: Křížovnická 4

8. It’s probably time you eat something. Yes, that’s a good idea. I can’t quite recall how we chose our dinner location. Or what it was called. Or where it was. What I do know is that I ate goulash with potato dumplings. At a really nice place that was stumbling distance from Kozlovna. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

Day Two

1. Get your hungover ass out of bed and eat something. You won’t want to but you’ll thank me later. Grab a coffee and a snack from one of the plentiful bakeries (but don’t get one of the star-shaped fruit pastries you’ll see everywhere, because gross).

2. Get thee to the Strahov Monastery. The views are great. The monks brew good beer. They make damn tasty goulash-in-a-bun. And it’s pretty. Strahov Monastery Strahovské nádvoří 1/132

3. Check out the castle. Take some photos, the view is great. We didn’t go inside. It was too much. Prague Castle: Pražský hrad, 119 08 Praha 1

4. Have another beer, on a boat. A floating restaurant is still a boat. We sat here as the sun set and it was a beautiful way to end a rowdy, lovely weekend. The swans floated by as we sipped our ice teas and eventually felt brave enough for a beer. Marina Grosetto Ristorante: Alšovo nábřeží, 110 00 Praha 1


Listening to: Spacing by Shihad (yes, old school)

Some words. On words.

Words are tricky. So are calligraphy pens.
Words are tricky. So are calligraphy pens.

I write for a living. My day job is in a corporate communications department, as an internal communication channels manager, for those of you who understand what that means.For those of you who don’t, I basically write and edit copy all day long with a bit of project management thrown in just to keep things interesting. I like my job a lot, but sometimes I get a bit cranky with people.

Why? Because words.

Now this is ironic, as I love words (you may have already gathered from my geek-girl ramblings). But in a business environment, words can suck.Why? Because some of the people I’ve dealt with over the years simply want to publish stuff that makes them look good, or important. This is totally understandable. I get how the corporate world works. But there’s this myth that to achieve this, you have to write in a way that is pompous and confusing.

My view? Do this and your communication will fail, or at the very least you’ll have some irate readers.

Write like a human being

When I’m doing the writing myself, I try to keep it as informal as possible to begin with. And when someone else sends me stuff they’ve already written, I gleefully edit their copy before publication. I quite like this bit as I can be lazy and someone else’s copy is an easier start-point than a blank page.

I also dislike this bit as it’s always where arguments discussions start. I say “Let’s change some of these words you have written so people can understand what you’re saying, quickly” and the other person says something like “No! By using many big words I look smart, and you are implying your readers are stupid if you think we should simplify things. We must use many big words. And lots of capital letters at random points throughout the message. Plus the CEO/CFO/CIO/Superman signed this off and he’s the BOSS so you can’t change it, minion.”

The rebuttal

At this point I usually end up calmly standing my ground and saying something like: “I absolutely don’t think our readers are stupid: I think they’re very busy. If they can skim this in 5 seconds and understand it in 10, there’s a better chance they’ll do what you’re asking them to. If they have to spend 5 minutes interpreting something they’ll either give up or get really pissed off. Also, capital letters everywhere confuse the eye, mo fo.”

I wish I could say the last part more often but I try and keep it clean at work. You get the gist. Most of the time I am cheerfully persistent and steer the stakeholder towards better copy getting published (yay for better results!), but sometimes the other person gets their way and I have to publish some material with awful words in it. And this makes me sad.

My blacklisted words/terms 

I could make a much longer list but keep it simple. These are the four worst-offenders in business writing, in my opinon. I get a bit ragey when I read these terms in copy.

  1. Step-change
    e.g. “We’re delivering a step-change in process for better customer service”. Just say change, for the love of god. Just say “we’re changing things for the better.”
  2. Actively
    e.g. “We’re actively listening to your feedback.” Just delete the word ‘actively’ and your sentence still works! #revelation
  3. Culture Change
    This is ironic as I find culture change and employee engagement work really interesting. But I cringe when I see it written down like it’s a ‘thing’ to be ‘done’, a la “Hurrah! We must do A Culture Change. We will make a Culture Change Programme to help our employees make the Culture Change and then we will talk about how the Culture Change Programme has delivered the Culture Change that it set out to do. Let’s make sure whenever we talk about it, it’s in a ten-page document with lots of capitals.” As the Kiwis say: Yeah-nah
  4. Strive
    e.g. “We strive to always deliver fresh, high quality produce.” I saw this one on a note in a staff canteen once. Um, what? Either you do or you don’t. Putting ‘strive to’ in there sounds like a cop-out clause. As Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

The ultimate sin-sentence, is one I swear I’ve actually seen at least three times in my six years as an internal communicator: “We’re actively embedding a Culture Change in the organisation, while striving to deliver a step-change in service and process.” Wow.

Like I said, I like my job a lot so this vent is of a cheerful nature. But words, people. Words. They’re tricky – use them carefully.

Related content:

Listening to:

Atlantic City, Bruce Springsteen.

Lovely Shoreditch buns: Yum Bun street food

I’ve been meaning to sample hirata buns since reading TimeOut’s special on the trendy new street food that’s taking over London. We were in the Old St area for a Sola Rosa gig last night so I ‘conveniently’ recalled that Yum Bun was en route to the venue.

And man oh man are these some tasty buns. The buns themselves are basically dumpling-dough (sweet & fluffy = good times) with 4 options for fillings: chicken, pork, fish or veg.

The damage: Buns are £3.50 each, or two for £6.50 so it’s a cheap feed.

What to eat: I wasn’t going home without trying the crispy fish special with coriander mayo and crunchy spring onions. Drool. Second on the agenda was the pork bun, which had less of the zingy flavours of the fish but was bursting full of porky goodness. Mmmm. We washed it all down with a quick pint at the neighbouring pub, where you can perch on the counter and eat your buns in style.  Overall a great snack on the go and deserving of the hype. Yum Bun: we will be back!

Location: Stumbling distance from Old St roundabout, Yum Bun’s at 31 Featherstone St, EC1Y 2BJ

Listening to:Spinning top’ by Sola Rosa

New beginnings and old ones revisited

Why hey there, good lookin’. It’s been almost two years since my last foray into blogging and I’m not entirely sure why I stopped in the first place. Life just got in the way, I guess. It’s been a pretty fun ride though. Lessons learned, countries explored, friendships forged, attitudes changed and a healthier lifestyle to boot. Then there was the whole moving-house-as-I-started-a-new-job debacle which happened exactly twice in the past two years (I really do suck at timing). But the good thing is that now life has some semblance of order to it, I’m ready to write again. Here’s to new experiences and old ones revisited. Here’s to getting longer in the tooth and realising how much fun there is still to be had. And here’s a pretty sunset photo I took yesterday.

Just coz I can.

Sunset on Goldhawk Road

Random aside: I’ve downloaded some really great music this week and have noticed it’s influencing my mood and my writing. So I’m going to include a tune that I’m listening to that’s made me happy, at the bottom of each post. This post was brought to you by ‘The Mess’ by The Naked and Famous. The music and beat of this tune really lift my mood although when I stopped to listen properly to the lyrics, they’re a bit darker than I’m currently feeling!