Archive for July, 2009

The joy of slow

July 28, 2009

Joy and slow. Two words that don’t go together often enough in our fast-paced world. At least it seems some people are enjoying the slowness of things…

Slow food

Slow design

Slow travel

Slow TV

Going slow with Joe

I have just discovered – I was a bit slow on the uptake! – that an article I wrote about holidaying by train in Italy for last year’s TNT travel writing competition has been published here.

So kick back and indulge in the joy of slow in full…

‘Pronto’ the lady loudly demanded of the caller before launching into an impassioned flurry of Italian. Sitting in the next row we could not help but overhear what little we thought we could understood of her “conversatione”. Is she in a hurry we wondered, requesting that whatever was about to be said should be delivered quickly (although this was unlikely as we weren’t going anywhere fast – we were on the stopping train heading south out of Rome towards the sea). But as other mobile phones rang around us, we soon realised that ‘pronto’ was just the Italian language telephone greeting equivalent of the more recognisable salut, hola and hallo.

We were in no rush. Having opted to take our summer holiday by rail and sail, we were going to relish the joy of going slow. At a time when it’s easy to jump on a jet to Genoa, we wanted to be able to savour our slow train journeys with their snapshot of Italian life, as much as our daily two scoops of melt-in-the-mouth gelato.

On the tempo front, Italy’s a land of contrasts. Speed seems to be of the essence to Italians when they’re in the seat of a Piaggio Vespa nipping in and out of traffic and zig-zagging around cliff-side hairpins bends, but when it comes to their morning cappuccino and afternoon espresso (get your coffee order the wrong way round and you’re instantly outed as a foreigner), they naturally take it at a leisurely pace. The Italians wouldn’t dream of having a takeaway coffee. Rushing off with an over-sized, rarely-recycled coffee cup would be sacrilegious to the ritual of one’s daily caffeine intake. And anyway, what’s the counter of the coffee bar for but to lounge against while sipping the dark stuff and getting into an animated discussion with the people standing next to you about who knows what.

It seemed to be the same with food. Italy’s the birthplace of the slow food movement and the lengthy simmering and sautéing of the country’s simple, fresh, non-nonsense ingredients produces delicious dishes that by their nature are designed to be taken slowly. We happily drooled over pasta pommodoro, trying our best to seductively twirl the spaghetti round our forks and slurp the rich sauce, but like true uncouth Brits we ended up splattering our fronts, and the tablecloth, with red tomatoey spots.

PizzaOther meals, like our real-deal Napolitanese pizza, arrived pretty damn pronto. But when the meal in question is practically the size of a dustbin lid, and you’re determined not to be defeated by the best-tasting combination of dough, tomato and cheese you’ve ever tasted, you just have to pace yourself, and – in the wise words of Simon and Garfunkel – make the moment last.

We weren’t however so keen to make all of our slow travel moments last. Oblivious to Italy’s public holiday calendar we found ourselves trying, without a booking, to get a seat on the overnight train from Naples to Milan, at the end of a hot summer bank holiday weekend. Half of Northern Italy’s residents returning from a break in the sunny South seemed to have had the same plan.

On the one hand, I felt like celebrating their eco-credentials for choosing the train over the plane, while the other half of me cursed our timing (It’s hard to escape all semblance of time pressures during a two week break). So we squeezed into the cramped train corridor where we amused ourselves playing our staple boredom reliever, magnetic backgammon, while our fellow travellers infuriated us with their incessant need for a tobacco fix despite the no smoking signs.

Luckily from Rome northwards we managed to cadge a couple of seats, one in a carriage (think old-fashioned six-seater carriages with sliding doors and raised luggage racks just above head-height) and the other in the corridor (think flip-down London tube seat) to rest our weary limbs for the following seven hours. It was needless to say a slow sleep.

But despite our less than 5 star sleeping arrangements, we arrived surprisingly sprightly in Milan for our morning cornetto (for the ignorami like me before this trip, it’s a croissant not the ice-cream Pavarotti sang about) and cappuccino. The combination made a fine fuel for the slow shopping trip that followed. Who needs fast fashion when you’ve got Milanese boutiques to browse. And when the only thing you’ve written in two weeks is your signature, it’s important to keep that in practice.

So after 13 train journeys in the same number of days, we stepped onto our penultimate train home in style. No x-ray machines, body searches or panic that our nail clippers had inadvertently found their way into our hand language ready to cause some grievous bodily harm. But simply the prospect of boasting that, in one day we’d breakfasted in Milan, lunched in Paris and dined in London. Not bad for a slow day’s work.


Cheesy change

July 24, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. Sounds a bit cheesy I know. Maybe something to do with Michael Jackson (he’s becoming a bit of an unintentional theme throughout my posts – the challenge to find reasons to reference him will continue!) and his ‘Man in the Mirror’ getting so much airplay recently. His cheesy world-changing lyrics are definitely popular. “If you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make that change.”

Being in a transition zone (recently back from my Borneo trip and starting out independently), I should in theory be more open to change. Though, I’d rather skip on the changeable weather we’re having. It makes cycling a little less enjoyable. And embarrassing when you turn up looking like a drowned rat.

But all in all, I have to agree that for me the message on my purse sums it up… change is good.

Change is goodOr in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller – inventor/ designer/ sustainability visionary of his time – Change is Normal.

But then there comes the problem of Climate Change. Some climatic changes are normal. But the rapidity of current climate change and severity of the impact of this change on people and environments is definitely not normal. People need to be inspired to embrace change – consume and waste less, reuse and recycle more in all senses of the words. World leaders need to push for a change in policies and legislation at Copenhagen in December. Governments need to commit to and help other countries, companies and communities deliver and normalise these changes.

Instead of seeing change as scary and daunting, we need to paint of picture of change as exciting, desirable and collective. And once everyone’s changed, or groups of people have changed, then it’s become normal. It’s just what we do.

butterflyImage from Post Secrets.

Butterflies are an interesting analogy. The Butterfly Effect is put simply that activities in one place cause effects in another. It’s climate change to a T. Just look at how poorer people are affected by richer people’s lifestyles. Parts of Asia under water. Areas of Africa dry as a bone. The UK a bit damp in places at the moment. So what are we going to do to change this?

I personally like a bit of humour in inspiring change. Communications that make me see things differently.

Being from the Pulp Fiction era, the Royale with Cheese line is a cheesy reminder of my yoof. This short video made me chuckle.

Go easy on the meat, have a Royale with Cheese tomorrow, have a mixed salad today, they say.

Knowing about the state of the world, and the state of your waistline post multiple Royale with Cheeses, can you look at the (wo)man in the mirror and not change your ways? But remember to go easy on the cheese too!

The ‘trough scoff’ challenge

July 20, 2009

I’ve always been a bit childish about playing with my food. Maybe because as a child I didn’t like much food and spent most mealtimes pushing it round my plate. Then there were tray inspections at school dinner times to check we were eating properly. The slice of processed ham hidden between tray and plate away from the eagle eye of the matron on ‘are they getting their protein’ duty was always a winner.

Now I eat most things but haven’t lost my temptation to arrange and photograph ingredients and leftovers in silly ways. Here’s one from a brunch in Berlin back in 2005. (I knew I’d have a use for it one day!)


And another from today – all produce grown and freshly picked this weekend from my parents’ vegetable patch.


The fennel made a delicious soup. The tomatoes went into a lentil and goats cheese salad. And the courgette is to be the vital ingredient of a chocolate courgette cake I’m entering into the ‘cakestravaganza’ competition at my friend’s wedding this weekend. 

Growing your own is very much de rigour. From the National Trust’s announcement that they’re creating 1,000 new allotments on Trust land (it’s one of their most popular news stories ever), to Michelle Obama’s commitment to the White House Kitchen Garden, and the many green-fingered gardeners who’ve been planting and harvesting their dinner table delights for many a moon and are suddenly the leaders of the pak (choy)! 

For new wave growers, the time is ripe for finding ingenious spaces to sew and sprout your veg. The sky is literally the limit. Headlines are shouting about ‘pop-up crops’, ‘window food’, ‘vertically-grown veg’, and my personal favourite courtesy of the National Trust… ‘ledge veg‘. They’ve done the calculations and found out that the UK’s windowsills collectively offer 600 acres of growing space – potentially that’s a lot of sill dill!

Because I like challenges and food, I’m going to promise publicly here to cover my balcony ledge with tasty ‘trough scoff’. I’m thinking some ledge lettuce, roof-top rosemary & balcony beetroot might be a good start. They are all in the top five vegetables to grow in window boxes list. I’ll be following advice on The London Vegetable Garden blog too for urban balcony growing tips. 

I’ll also be a plus one to Boris’ Capital Growth scheme which aims to open up 2,012 new fruit and veg growing spaces by 2012. 

Vertical allotments, it seems, are being given serious attention by the big guys too. Check out plans for hanging gardens in tower blocks in this recent Times article. 

So why not join the ledge veg revolution? You may scoff, but once your neighbours’ and friends’ sills are sprouting you’ll be wishing you’d tended some veggie troughs too. And who needs the greengrocer for the basics when you’ve got your own blooming marvellous mint and locally-sourced lettuce leaves at arm’s reach. Jamie O would be proud. Go on, do it, and then pass the idea on to a friend.

Word game

July 16, 2009

Do you ever get that ‘aha’ moment when you suddenly see something differently? I had it recently with MJ’s History album – oh I get it, HIS story! So slow sometimes.

I wish my mind worked in a more catch-phrasey, “say what you see” way. It makes communications so much more fun.

Why send an email suggesting a catch up, when you can insert an image of  ketchup instead?


By adding a single gap, Trade Justice takes on a whole new meaning… trade just ice.

Eating in Choice Restaurant on holiday I chuckled over a sign in the serving area saying ‘Choice Staff Only’.

Christian Aid are using the word within word concept in their new campaign – Poverty Over. Clever. I’d never noticed ‘over’ in poverty before. Now it’s staring me in the face.

Poverty over

I saw this, their strikingly simple billboard ad, while out on my bike today.

And then sure enough, like all good marketing communications, I had an email about the campaign in my inbox when I got home. Admittedly I’m a signed up supporter and tuned in to their work, but the coincidences didn’t stop there.

I decided to attack my mounting pile of admin this evening including post received while I was away. In amongst the unopened envelopes I found a letter from Christian Aid in February inviting me to a focus group to give them feedback on their fundraising messages. I wonder/ would like to think that the Poverty Over messages were informed by this supporter insight.

Watch the Poverty Over campaign call to action here. It acknowledges that ending poverty is a BIG task. But humans have collectively achieved world-changing successes before, like…

Abolishing slavery

Eradicating smallpox

Ending apartheid, and

Liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.

We're humans

The messaging is inclusive (we, not you or they), people focused (people made it, people can end it) and positive is a similar way to the now famous Obama campaign slogan (we can change).

The closing ask is to join us (Christian Aid) on the journey of putting the poverty eradication theory into practice. Their use of the word ‘journey’ reminds me of an interesting manifesto from American identity company Brains on Fire about Igniting Word of Mouth Movements. Read it and you’ll never plan a campaign again.  They highlight how movements have ongoing impact because they’re co-created, rooted in passion and run by your fan base.

So move with the movements and you’ll move men (and women) to say (and do) what they see.

RIP Borneo and Beyond

July 15, 2009


While many people have been  mourning the passing of Mikey J, I have been commiserating another sad loss. That of my blog-no-more, Borneo and Beyond, obliterated by a hacker. They even got the back-up. Grrrrrr.

But I only lost words and can easily write more. Plus I’m beyond Borneo and back in Bermondsey so it’s time to start afresh. I haven’t spied any orang utan hanging out here…  although might be proved wrong as I’m going to chat to the guys at Naked Ape this afternoon. They say they do PR.

So this is my new blog. Currently nameless as I decide on the form, function and explore my (hopefully budding) fan base.

I’ll be posting about visual and written communications. Movements and tribes of do-ers. Inspirational people pursuing causes they care about. Clever ideas. Beautiful design. And things that make me stop, think and/ or laugh.

Talking of the last point, here are a couple of snaps from Borneo for posterity.

**Less grease always makes me happy**


**Advice on the door to a snooker hall…  Don’t trust girl**

Don't trust girl

**Prevent drowning, use giant chopsticks**

Prevent drowning 2

**Finally, some friendly (?), not-so-subtle advice from a wedding singer**

Ditch him

Hello world!

July 15, 2009

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