Here’s how to use an A-frame sign: getting location-based marketing right

I was in Eastbourne recently, and noticed that this independent cafe was making the most of their single A-frame sign to share a direct call to action.

As you walk away from the station towards the town centre and the sea, you’re given this message: “Buy your sandwiches and drinks here – cheaper than seafront and shopping centre.”A sign reading Buy your sandwiches and drinks here cheaper than the seafront


And as you walk back past the cafe to the station, you see this: “Buy your food and drinks here – cheaper than station.”



It worked on me! I bought my cup of coffee to take on the train from their shop, and it was indeed an extremely cheap basic beverage which did the job of keeping me awake. I had to share their signboard though, because that is good marketing just at the right time.

She Says Brighton networking night, September 2013

I’ve been helping my friends Rifa and Sharma organize She Says women’s networking events in Brighton for some time now: they’re always very well attended and packed full of people who do interesting digital jobs around the city.

A group of women sitting talking and drinking wine

The audience at the She Says Brighton September networking event. Photo shared under Creative Commons licence by Katariina Järvinen,

At the latest event, part of Brighton Digital Festival, we heard three women discuss their career trajectories and the key lessons they’d learned along the way.

Viviana Doctorovich

Viviana Doctorovich (@vivdoc) now works at Clearleft, but looking at a chart depicting the incredible range of jobs she’d had, she exclaimed “This looks more like a career cardiogram than a career path!”

Displaying the information in a pie chart, she estimated she’d spent 60% of her working life in either “crappy” or “very crappy” jobs – yet in her own words, “what better training in how to handle clients than being a waitress?”

Viviana Doctorovich speaking.

Viviana Doctorovich speaking. Photo shared under Creative Commons licence by Katariina Järvinen,

However, as she told her story and visualized each job as a point on a treasure map, she interpreted the journey as more of a career hunt, at each stage eliminating the aspects she didn’t want to do in future, and pursuing the areas that interested her most: “At this admin job, I was so bored I ended up creating databases to make my job more exciting”.

This really struck a chord with me. When I was first thinking about jobs, and even when I graduated, I had no idea that roles like my current one even existed. Who knows what sorts of technical jobs will be available in future? All we can do is keep learning and adapting.

Emily Scoggins

A woman speaking to a crowd

Emily Scoggins speaking. Photo shared under Creative Commons licence by Katariina Järvinen,

Emily Scoggins (@emilyrocks) works in advertising and branding, a notoriously competitive field – she described the anguish of being up against 700 other applications for an agency job. Her top tips, all based on her own experiences which she can now look back on and laugh at:

1)   Don’t ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself – e.g. cut up a plate of fruit at a different angle for a spoilt client.

2)   Respect creative work – don’t trample other people’s ideas. They could blossom into something exciting – as with improv comedy, respond “Yes, and…”

3)   Be clear and specific – particularly when writing creative briefs.

4)   Hack your work life till it works for you – find ways around problems.

5)   Really know every aspect of your company and its business inside out – one day, even the smallest piece of info could be a spark to a creative flame.

6)   Play nicely: leave egos at the door and collaborate.

7)   Have a life: don’t work late all the time, as other stuff is incredibly important. Nobody on their deathbed says they wish they’d spent more time at work, but many regret not taking time to smell the daisies and enjoy time with their family and friends. Having a wide range of life experiences also gives you more frames of reference to look at an issue or challenge with, enabling you to contextualise.

8)   Fall in love with something – and fall deeply! Passion, and depth of experience, are equally important. By way of example, Emily loves live music and has seen 181 bands already this year.

Urmee Khan

Urmee Khan (@urmeek) is a freelance writer, but described her journey into investigative journalism. Stories she reported included terror stories, paedophiles, loan sharks, conmen and drug traffickers, and investigating Beeston following the 7/7 bombings. The crowd listened in shocked silence as she spoke,  and exhaled with relief as she reiterated her determination not to get pigeonholed into a beat she was no longer comfortable with.

She moved to a local paper to develop a new set of skills, where she ended up challenging perceptions: “Nobody believed that this Asian woman could be from the Gloucestershire local paper!”

A woman speaking

Urmee Khan speaking. Photo shared under Creative Commons licence by Katariina Järvinen,

Her takeaway from the experience: “A nose for news and a contacts book will get you through any career change.”

Urmee has also seen the rise of social networking and blogging, now vital tools in every journalist’s arsenal although at the time many older journalists were slow to see the value of services such as Twitter. She explained how the sudden access to social media platforms has enabled millions of people in the middle of unfolding situations to have a voice, and how this has, for example, enabled news organizations such as Al-Jazeera to over the Arab Spring.

She cited a quote from Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim on citizen journalism: “If you want to liberate [a people], give them the internet.”

To find out more about She Says Brighton, join the group on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter at @She SaysBrighton.

Looking back at 2012

Since the start of 2012 I have…

Gotten a new piercing.

Dyed my hair.

Ended a relationship.

Started a new relationship.

Been on a long car journey. (The road trip to Dorset was a hysterical highlight, and involved crossing a chain ferry!)

A countryside landscape with hedgerow, hill fort and sparkling sea

It was a long car journey from Brighton to Dorset, but views like this made it all worthwhile.

Passed an exam (and a Project Management assignment that drove me slightly round the twist).

Met someone who’s now an important part of my life. 

Cried on someone’s shoulder.

Had a massive fight with a boyfriend.

Received flowers. (Thank you again – always such a disarmingly lovely surprise!) 

Had a Valentine.

Written a letter using pen and paper.

Gone to see a therapist.

Been prescribed medication by a doctor.

Read a really good book.

Gone to the zoo (one of the best things about having young kids around is the chance to rediscover zoos, and mini trains, and building blocks …)

Spent too much money on unnecessary things.

Travelled by train (including the Eurostar AND a double decker train!)

Cried over a member of the opposite sex.

Spent a day out in the sun getting a tan (and drinking mint tea and eating strange Moroccan pastries shaped like tiny hedgehogs).

Slammed a door out of frustration.

Had an anxiety attack.

Babysat for a friend’s child.

Had a BBQ.

Gone to the fair.

Gone bowling.

Seen a film at the cinema (not in 3D, but thanks to Picturehouse membership I’ve seen more films at the cinema than I usually would).

Gone on a date. 

Been the only sober one on a night out.

Helped someone home after they’d had too much to drink. (I think we all spent the following day frantically untagging ourselves on Facebook…)

Stayed up all night.

A girl in a red dress covered in gold glitter and pink and turquoise powder paint

My dream of taking part in a Holi-type powder paint fight came true at Playgroup Festival

Talked on the phone for over two hours.

Supported someone who’d received bad news.

Watched some kind of live sporting event (Hello – the Olympics?!)

Read an entire book in one day. (Too many to count: I’m a fast reader.)

Bought a DVD the day it was released.

Eaten McDonald’s more than four times in a single week.

Cried as a result of exam stress.

Met some incredible new people. 

Fallen backwards off a chair.

Broken my glasses.

Cried over someone in my past. (It’s getting easier, though – and no close family died in 2012, which was a definite improvement on 2011).

Spent hours aimlessly browsing the internet.

Thrown up.

Cried over a film.

Gone out of my way to avoid an ex-boyfriend.

Fought with someone in public.

Been in a relationship for a year or longer.

Also … investigated family history; became a part-time student; started public speaking; discovered a surprising talent for weightlifting; attended two lovely weddings (and was a bridesmaid at one); helped out at the British Beard & Moustache Championships; stayed in a luxury hotel; revelled at a muddy festival; tried hot yoga (once was enough – a drop of sweat rolled down the instructor’s arm and flicked into my mouth, ugh ugh ugh); reviewed new theatre, dance, music and comedy; met my heroine Caitlin Moran; travelled to Belgium, Morocco and parts of the UK I hadn’t been to before; and set in motion for 2013 one of those major life changes that is simultaneously very exciting and very nervewracking. Phew!

Comforting book recommendations to lose yourself in

A friend is going through a gruelling time at the moment, so I pulled together a list of some of my favourite comforting and distracting books for her: those I can sink back in to again and again, getting lost in other worlds. I’m at home-home for Christmas, and in between the days spent stressing over my latest assignment, I’ve been diving back into shelves of books from my childhood – Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle – bliss!

An art installation of rippling books

Snake book sculpture, shared under a Creative Commons licence by Flickr user cogdogblog

So, if you’re looking for a bit of variety, I recommend:

Ben Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London novels – police investigations in contemporary London, but with magic and river goddesses and architectural history. Great distractions, and right up my street, combining procedural drama with grim enchantments. These have such diverse characters, they’d make a great Misfits-style TV series.

Gerald Durrell‘s books – My Family & Other Animals is the best known, but he wrote about 20, and all of them are joyfully in love with words and animals and eccentric people, string together comedy moments and gloriously colourful descriptions of the Greek islands and African jungles. Perfect tonic for grim grey winters.

Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum series, starting with One for the Money. You can zip through these at a rate of knots: the protagonist is an unlikely bounty hunter in New Jersey, with a hilarious family, a love triangle, and an uncanny knack for exploding her cars. There are moments of genuine peril, but mostly this is a chance to revel in a world of big hair, fried chicken and doughnuts. (The film apparently cast Katherine Heigl as Stephanie – I can’t imagine this working, but I should probably watch the thing before judging.)

Caitlin Moran – you’ve probably already read her terrific How To Be a Woman, like 99% of my female friends, but I also bought myself her collection of columns Moranthology. It’s a delight to dip in and out of, ranging from her passionate appreciation of TV shows like Sherlock to fury at unfairness. It’s impossible to remain unmoved reading this: she zings off every page.

Sarah Waters‘ Victorian lesbian psychological thrillers, Fingersmith and Affinity, along with the more picaresque Tipping the Velvet – all with twists in the tale and showing many different sides of society, where women were restricted and where they had the freedom to carve out a space for themselves.

Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri books, beginning with The Coroner’s Lunch: an ancient, drily humorous coroner in corrupt 1970s Laos ends up investigating murders – and he’s possessed by the spirit of a thousand-year-old shaman.

Lindsey Davis‘ Falco series: the protagonist is an informer / private eye and struggling poet in Ancient Rome, ex-army, with a large and obstreperous family, who solves murders aided and abetted by his upper-class girlfriend. They get to visit all kinds of ancient lands, and much like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, there are various subtle comments on our society too …

Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods – if you enjoyed Rivers of London plunge into this one, it’s terrific. Look out for the song titles – this has layers and layers and as well as being a terrific story and virtual roadtrip across America, really rewards re-reading.

Angela Carter’s Wise Children – the jolliest picaresque book about sets of twins on the London stage and in Hollywood, swinging through the last century of showbusiness, Shakespeare and family baggage, from the point of view of a feisty old lady.

Which books do you come back to?

Midnight bike rides, and why you should take them

So perhaps late one evening, as you go to close your bedroom window, you suddenly catch the scent of the night air – delicate sea-mist, wintery woodsmoke and the slight cold metallic tang of cordite that always thrills you with excitement.

And perhaps, instead of shaking off the restless impulse, drawing the curtains and going to bed … you pause for a moment, and realise that you’re not tired, and it’s a mild night, and you still have your shoes on, and in fact you can imagine yourself cycling down to the seafront under the low-hanging half moon.

And maybe you just go for it.

A long-exposure photo looking down on a seafront at night

Brighton beach at night, with glowing streetlamps. Image shared by zebel under a Creative Commons licence

This is what I encountered, and what each moment made me think of:

  • An almighty crash from an armoured van outside a large, anonymous hotel – as if something was going drastically wrong for the Ocean’s Eleven crew.
  • I was accosted by two creatures of the night, teetering on high heels, clad in miniskirts and leopard-print jackets. When I replied politely they swiftly turned away – perhaps, with my hair tied back and wearing a bike helmet and thick coat I could be mistaken for a punter. Or perhaps they were just revellers who’d lost their way.
  • A solitary tai chi sensei glided through his routine, his body tracing elegant calligraphy across the lawns.
  • Couples lay scrunched in pebbles on the beach talking softly, the kind of deep, wine-infused conversations you end up embroiled in after hours of watching the waves.
  • Rows of bathing boxes lit by occasional streetlights, looking like rows of snow-covered miniature Swiss chalets. The eerie amber glow of the lamps through the mist and the surreal symmetry of the low iron railings created a dreamlike atmosphere: I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Dumbledore step onto the cycle path and click his Put-Outer.
  • A woman at her kitchen window, paused mid-way through washing up a plate, gazing unseeing into the middle distance as if trying to remember the next line of a song.
  • At first I thought it was a rough sleeper bundled under a blanket, then a shaggy dog – but as I neared the shadows of a shelter, I realised I was only a couple of metres away from a confident urban fox, trotting along unafraid, its tail proudly held straight.
  • Amid the forest of chairlegs stacked on tables in a closed cafe sat one tired man, his slumped shoulders illuminated by a lone lightbulb, gratefully holding a large teacup with both hands as delicately as one might lift a fallen bird’s nest.
  • In a darkened tennis court a solitary beatboxer practised plosive spitting with a grinding bassline, the wind rattling the chainlink fencing like a wire-brushed cymbal.
  • Finally, I momentarily broke up a fight between two well-spoken chaps who were fronting on the cycle path like plumped-up peacocks.

You notice small interactions more acutely in a different light, with the edge of risk that comes with adventuring after dark. Any one of these brief encounters could easily prompt a short story, at least – my former writing tutor Wendy would be proud!

Theatre work experience: an old report comes to light

In clearing out old boxes recently, I was surprised to find a school report I’d written at the age of 17 after doing a year of work experience at a small local theatre. I only went in on Thursday afternoons, but I remember this as a very happy time when a lovely team of people welcomed a somewhat naïve student whose endless attempts to be helpful must have been something of a tribulation.


Theatre photo courtesy of alancleaver_2000, shared under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr

In my self-evaluation I frankly admit, “There have been low points, such as the many times I have efficiently answered the telephone only to forget an obvious word like ‘postcode’, floundering for 5 minutes describing ‘the thing with the letters and numbers in it’, or accidentally crashing the computer twice in as many weeks by doing exactly the same thing.”

“I felt truly stupid when I dialled the same phone number three times because I was so intrigued by the odd dialling tone. After about 5 minutes of saying ‘Hello … hello … is anyone there?’ I attempted to describe the bizarre electronic music and was informed I had been communicating with a fax machine. This,” I concluded portentously, “is a mistake I will not make again.” Still, come on – everybody’s done this once, right? Right?

Every lunchtime was a forum for discussion: the staff would all sit together and I’d soak up everything I considered worthy of comment, e. g. “Table dancers wanted in the small ads of The Stage are paid over £600 a night.”

My tasks included customising posters and displaying them in hard-to-open weatherproof display cases (“My technique is to punch them while wiggling a table knife down the sides”). I came up with children’s colouring competitions and set up creative in-house displays: “My use of bright colours and long paper beanstalks interested both small children and taller adults”.

Clearly I wasn’t immune to status anxiety, recording “I often make tea and coffee (not as a menial chore but to make visitors feel welcome).”

The strangest things were exciting novelties: in an appendix to my report, I include, carefully sealed into a plastic bag, an arson-damaged letter I received at the theatre, disintegrating into blackened flakes. I also recorded thrilling breaks to the usual routine: an evacuation! Buying an iron! Using the official franking machine in the Town Hall! Salvaging things from a closing down Santa’s Grotto!

I also noted, “It has been very useful hearing the way theatre professionals analyse contemporary productions, compared to what we are taught to notice in Theatre Studies.” I wonder how much this early grounding informs my reviewing style now?

Some things haven’t changed: “The pay is unanimously described as not good – apparently this is true throughout [the whole leisure company of which the theatre was a part], and explains why all their employees are so young. The only way to make progress and advance your career is to go and work somewhere else, where your experience will be rewarded with a higher position and hopefully higher wages.”

It’s fascinating that I conclude that I’d find full-time admin work boring, that design and publicity are things I’m definitely interested in, and that I would rather have a job like the Festival Coordinator “who does a lot of planning, liaising with other people, designing and research but at the end sees a large-scale result involving a whole community.” This pretty much describes what I do professionally these days.

I end my report with a page of thanks to everyone who supported me … including a gracious acknowledgement to a taciturn technical assistant for being “silently fanciable”.

Challenge accepted!

So I was talking to my friend, the tennis-playin’ surf-ridin’ world explorer Ms Nia Wyn Owen, about our hopes and dreams for the year ahead. I may have mentioned how much I’d love to read a blog about her Australian travels … and she promptly bounced my request back at me.

We both have these blogs, and neither of us have done much with them… and on our own, we are terrible procrastinators. So Nia and I have challenged each other to publish some posts – and whoever has the most interesting blog by the New Year will be declared the winner. Bragging rights are at stake – that’s right, this thing just got serious.

Why not check out her blog now? It’s at

What should I write about? I’m just back from our office Christmas meal. We can be quite a noisy group, particularly during the infamous annual Christmas Quiz, so we reserved the upstairs room at the Ginger Fox near Hurstpierpoint. It’s a cosy little pub in the middle of the countryside with a thatched mansard roof, reminiscent of Milly-Molly-Mandy’s cottage. The food was delicious.

Modesty forbids me from revealing whose team won the quiz (although the aspirational team name, Mr C and the Edge of Glory, may have goaded us on to excel).

As always, though, my pop-culture uncoolness proved faintly embarrassing. In the Never Mind the Buzzcocks-style ‘Next Lines’ round, our quizmistress read out “Funk to funky…”

Of course, the following line should be, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie” from David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.

However, my cheesetastic mind went straight to Samantha Mumba’s 90s classic Body to Body, with its very similar line “Body to body, funk to funky, we know how to rock your party.”

To music connoisseur and art blogger extraordinaire Mark, this schoolgirl error resulted in 5 minutes of hysterical spluttering. Just you wait, Monsieur Sheerin. Just you wait until you’re called upon to identify a mid-90s cheesy pop B-side. Then you will rue the day!

So hey, Nia, if you’re seeing this in your RSS reader, your mouth open in disbelief that I’ve actually written something … consider the GAUNTLET THROWN DOWN.

Dun – dun – DUNNNNN!

Why start a blog here?

Weathered wooden handrail and steps leading down to Brighton Beach

Weathered wooden handrail and steps leading down to Brighton Beach

1) The 140 characters allowed by Twitter aren’t long enough to say everything I want to say.

2) I want to share new ideas, concepts and links with anyone who might be interested, and talk about them openly rather than in the closed circle of Facebook.

3) I need to become more technical and “webby” as quickly as I can. While I often found my old Blogger blog a bit limiting, I hope to be able to experiment a lot more with this new WordPress space – I may even end up transferring tales from the old travel blog across to here.

4) Writing out my impressions and questions gives me a chance to reflect on what I’m learning in this new, challenging situation I find myself in. I don’t have all the answers, and I hope to connect with other people who are also building their careers and networks.

5) Writing is a grounding action, and letting my fleeting ideas wander and unfurl can lead to surprising conclusions, even epiphanies. I want to look back and remind myself of the opportunities open to me, everything I have to be grateful for, and build up snapshots of my life, in this exciting city, in this time of amazingly rapid changes.