This gallery contains 1 photo.
Author Archives: carolynemitchell
OK, so I haven’t blogged in ages but I’d like your opinions please.
MiniMe’s been asked to enter a writing competition. It’s to be up to 100 words with a twist, either a reworking of something traditional or her own work. The competition is open to 11-18 year olds and I think what she’s written is way beyond her years.
Feedback would be gratefully received as she’s to hand it in by Wednesday.
The Wedding Dress
Marissa sat in the middle of the floor with the box open in front of her. A million happy memories ran through her head as she traced her fingers down the smooth, silky fabric of her wedding dress. A small smile crept upon her face. She finally picked up her phone and just sat there with it, thinking. She jumped as the thoughts of her past came into the present. She looked at the phone. She pressed her thumb onto the Twitter icon and before she changed her mind wrote, “For sale, wedding dress, never worn”.
Ok, so I’m back in the driving seat after a long break due to a mixture of family commitments, dodgy broadband and a business trip to London. You’d better strap yourself in though because this is a sad one.
I have waited a long eight years for the new Daft Punk album. There’s been a lot of hype in the run up to the release of Random Access Memories and I had mixed emotions when I slid the CD into the car stereo this morning.
I have loved them since I first heard Homework, stood in awe for a while then danced my socks off when I saw them live at the first Creamfields in Winchester back in 1998. They make me want to dance, even if I’m sitting down. But here’s the sad part – every time I hear them I remember Ricki who was the one who introduced me to the two French mad geniuses.
Ricki was the joker in our pack. There was a crowd of us, all weekend, fair weather friends who loved our dance music, loved our DJs and loved our house parties. Ricki was always the one making us laugh and his Rubber Dance was legendary - a mickey take of Riverdance, he’d be motionless from the waist up with a deadpan expression but his legs would be going ten to the dozen underneath him, flailing wildly and seemingly made of rubber.
He arrived in my flat clutching his newly bought copy of Homework demanding that I listen. He’d obviously listened to it a few times by then and through each track I got a running commentary with regular ‘Eh, but wait for the next bit – it’s genius’ thrown in, his forefingers going in time to the high hat. I had to admit it was a fabulous album and I bought a copy for myself the next day.
Everywhere Ricki went Daft Punk followed. We all travelled down to Newcastle for the wedding of two of our friends. After the usual party we’d been promised the bar to play some vinyl but somehow the arrangements got mixed up and the vinyl had been left in Scotland. Cue Ricki’s dash to his car to get the only CD in the stereo – Daft Punk’s Homework. We listened and danced to that CD all night till we could take no more. Ricki listened to it all the way home.
So in my mind Daft Punk and Ricki go together like all the best things do – I have him to thank for adopting them early and wondering why others weren’t catching on. I couldn’t believe that people didn’t realise that Kanye West couldn’t take the credit for Stronger. Call me a Daft Punk snob if you like.
But here’s the rub. Ricki was a gardener with Dundee City Council and one Friday he went from work to a union meeting. He wanted to meet up with us in town so he headed straight there but the bouncer wouldn’t let him in with his steel toe-capped boots and told him to go home and change. He did but he never made it back out that night. On his way home two teenagers attacked him and one stabbed him in the back with a knife bought that afternoon with the intent of stabbing a random stranger. Apparently a stab wound in the back just feels like a punch so Ricki stumbled home, not realising the extent of his injuries. He made it as far as his close where he died before help could come. He was 27.
The two teenagers were arrested later that night, after bragging in the pub about what they’d done. They went down for it but they would have been younger than Ricki was when they got out.
Ricki’s funeral was standing room only. It was heartbreaking. A few weeks after I got photos developed and there in amongst the normal ones were a few of Ricki taken at a party in a field. He was in a boxing ring bouncy castle with outsized boxing gloves on. We couldn’t get him off that for ages – I had a go at squaring up to him but I couldn’t move for laughing. Although I didn’t know her well I printed up some for his mum and visited to say how much he’d been a part of our lives. She loved those photos – said it summed up his love of life and laughter.
It took me a while to listen to Daft Punk again – in fact I missed their whole second album. But Daft Punk’s music is infectious. When I listen to it I still remember that awful night when we heard the news but with each track I can hear Ricki saying in my ear ‘Eh, but wait for the next bit – it’s genius’ – and it always is.
Miss you Ricki – the music sounds better with you
Today I have learned:
- music is the key to life
- Ricki was right – Daft Punk are genius
- blogging is like riding a bike – if you’re saddle sore get off for a while
Turkey with sage and lemon sauce
4 thin turkey breast slices, cut into bite sized pieces
3 lemons, 1 peeled and sliced thinly, the rest juiced
plain flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
a handful of mushrooms, sliced
100mls white wine
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
Method: Put the flour in a freezer bag with the turkey and some seasoning and shake till coated. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the oil. Flash fry the turkey, in batches if you need to, until browned, with the lemon slices and the mushrooms. Pour in the lemon juice and win, stirring constantly to make the sauce creamy. Add the sage and some more seasoning and serve with pasta.
I love cooking but there are things I avoid. They all have something two things in common:
- they’re fiddly
- there’s a high probability (in my head) that it’ll be disastrous and my ‘good cook’ cover will be blown
This ‘to be avoided’ list includes intricate desserts/cakes that need a light touch, fresh custard,and by default home-made ice-cream, finicky pastry, home-made ravioli and home-made gnocchi. The last was the first and only time I’ve tried to make gnocchi but it went so horribly wrong that certain recipes just get a wide berth.
Let me set the scene. It was a dinner party for some friends in the house of my then-boyfriend’s parents who were away on holiday – a kind of up-market empty, if you will. I was still cutting my cooking teeth and on this night I had mainly meat-eaters and one extremely picky vegetarian to cater for. I can’t even remember what the rest of us ate that night but I was already fretting about the gnocchi before the guests arrived.
I had everything under control until the vegetarian and her hubby turned. He was brandishing, not a bottle of wine, but a bottle of tequila for the hosts. I got the starter out of the way before it was cracked open but once the genie had been released we realised the only thing we had to slam it with was beer.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the night – I only have fleeting memories engrained on the back of my retinas in hallucinogenic Technicolor. This included a pot of glutinous potato (the vegetarian got crisps for dinner), someone surfing on the ironing board in the kitchen, one of the guests being walked round the back garden where he later fell asleep and was found the next morning with his head resting in the flower bed, oh and the stain on the lovely green carpet of my boyfriend’s parent’s bedroom carpet where I barfed whatever I’d managed to eat before the tequila/beer slammers took hold. We had to find an emergency carpet cleaner the next day because they were due back that night.
Now I reckon the tequila had a lot to do with my failure that night but I have a dread of my cooking going so badly wrong that people have to either go hungry or phone a takeaway. So, it was with trepidation that I attempted Gok Wan’s Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers last night.
I prepared well, left myself plenty of time in case we had to phone the Chinese takeaway down the road and I put on Craig Charles Funk and Soul show on the iPlayer to sooth my frayed nerves. And guess what – they only bloody worked! I wasn’t out my face on tequila or anything else, which helped.
From that I learned:
- Gok Wan is a cookery genius
- when it comes to cooking there’s nothing to fear except fear itself – and tequila
Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers
Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main
Stolen unashamedly from Gok Cooks Chinese. I get my Chinese provisions from SeeWoo in Glasgow who I can’t recommend highly enough. If I’m ever stuck or confused the staff are really friendly and help me out. Go for a look at the live seafood and the fabulous cakes. You’re guaranteed to come out with a shopping bag full of goodies.
200g minced chicken
half a leek, finely chopped
2 spring onion, finely chopped
1 tsp Lazy Ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
salt and pepper
cornflour for dusting
1 egg yolk, whisked slightly
white wanton wrappers
1 tbsp groundnut oil
For the dipping sauce
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp chives, chopped
150 mls water
I added the juice of a lime
Method: Put all the ingredients up to and including the salt and pepper, into a bowl and mix together well with your hands.
Dust your work surface with cornflour and put out some wrappers. Put just over a teaspoon of chicken mixture into the middle of each one. Brush the edges with egg yolk then pick one up and fold over, squeezing out any air and sealing round the edges. Repeat till the chicken is used up. I got 21 out of it.
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan with deep sides to medium/hot. Put the dumplings in the pan for 30 seconds to a minute until the one side is crispy and golden. Add about 200mls of water and cover for 5-8 minutes, topping up the water if the pan dries out. Transfer to a hot plate if you have to cook them in batches.
I served them as a main on a bed of salad with the dipping sauce drizzled over the top. Nom
Tonight’s another quick post because we’re going to watch Seven Psychopaths on DVD.
Today I reached my 1000th follower on Twitter and although the number of followers should never be taken as a measure of anything, it seemed like some kind of landmark worth celebrating. So I’ve sent them a copy of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember via Amazon. If they haven’t already read it I hope they enjoy as much as I did.
Today I have learned:
- I really like a well-chilled Sauvignon blanc
- Tosca florentines from Alexander Taylor in Strathaven are my new favourite cake
The video doesn’t do much for feminism but the track is the shizz.
Creamy tagliatelle with ham and mushrooms
I’ve done an egg-free carbonara recipe before but this is slightly different.
oil for frying
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 large mushrooms, sliced
4-5 thick slices of cooked ham, chopped
some thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
a good slug of double cream
tagliatelle, cooked as per pack instructions
a couple of handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling
Method: Heat the oil and fry the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Add the ham, thyme, pepper, cream and cheese. Stir well and allow to bubble till the cheese is melted and everything is warmed through,
Serve on a bed of tagliatelle and sprinkled with the extra cheese.
I’m interrupting a particularly lovely glass Barbera d’Asti to bring you this so I’ll be quick.
I’ve been through a couple of lean management workouts at work and they are great but take ages if they’re done properly and people grudge the time away from doing the actual work.
On the last two channel shift projects I’ve worked on, a colleague from IT who sits on these groups with me does business process mapping. At a lean project this is usually done with Post Its on the wall but Margaret produces lovely flow diagrams and at a glance you can see the really complex bits, the double handling and the dead ends. Managers can also see the weak points in the process that can be tightened up and the areas for improvement.
Last week we had a comms meeting with one of our departments and the Roads Head of Service mentioned in passing that this year a priority for him will be for us to look at how we promote the roads investment programme. This has always been a tricky one for us. Reporting roads faults is one of the biggest hits on our website and one of the biggest volume of calls for the call centre. This makes it seem like our roads are really bad but I can assure you they’re actually very good in comparison to some other council areas. We have a lot of remote rural roads as well as urban roads and we are spending a lot of money improving them. The trouble is that regular features and press releases about either particular roads or the whole programme wind people up because all they are interested in is their own road or the pothole they drive round on the way to work. We’re good at telling people about the road closing but not so good about telling them when it’s open again and if it was opened on time and on budget.
Anyway, I had a flash of inspiration about a slightly different use for Margaret’s process maps. We’re going to sit down and work out the process on paper from when a fault is reported, to the inspection, to the road being closed, the work being done and the road opened again. Just by looking at that process from a comms perspective we should be able to identify points where our team can step in, whether it’s with a tweet, a press release, a web item, whatever. I’m guessing here, but there may be scope for the roads officer to get on Twitter and upload a photo as the road is being opened. We may even decide to go old school with a leaflet through the doors of the houses and businesses affected by the closure.
I love doing this kind of thing because I’m basically nosey about other people’s business but it usually takes someone like me who knows nothing about the process to see it with a new pairs of eyes and question the things that are done that way just because they always have been.
So the proposal is done we just have to find time in our diaries. I actually quite fancy getting some training in business process mapping because I think it could be used a lot for comms plans.
Today I have learned:
- lie-ins give me a sore head
- going by the responses to my intranet survey it looks like I’ll be running an employee photography club soon – eep!
Chinese five-spice chicken salad
This is the quickest dinner ever – 10 minutes max – but healthy and tasty.
3 tsp Lazy ginger
1 tsp Lazy Red Chilli
2 tsp five-spice powder
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 chicken fillets, cubed
half a tsp sugar
juice of a lime
a good dash of sweet chilli sauce
a bag of baby salad
a good sprinkling of sprouted seeds (I used pea, bean and lentil)
Method: Put all the ingredients except the chilli sauce, salad and seeds in a bowl and mix well.
Heat a wok and tip in the chicken. Stir fry for about 5 minutes till cooked. Add the salad and stir till the leaves begin to wilt. Add the chilli sauce and heat through. Serve in bowls with the seeds sprinkled over the top.
This is a brief post because I bought a couple of books from Amazon which arrived yesterday. I started it on the bus this morning and I’m hooked so I want to get back to reading it if that’s OK with you.
It’s Super Freakonomics: Global cooling, patriotic prostitutes and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner and it’s fuelling my need to know more about behavioural economics. I think if I had the money I’d track down another Masters course but I don’t have the money or the time.
The title of the book was enough for me to buy it and even the introduction is intriguing. If you’d had too much to drink at a party and your only options were to drive home or walk home which would you do? We’d all walk, right? Well, weighing up all the stats you’re less likely to cause injury to yourself or anyone else by driving drunk than walking drunk. So really we should get a taxi. Again it’s another of those books that has been written in an engaging and funny style but is based on academic research.
So that’s about it for tonight so I can get back to reading about the fact that in the early 1900s in America, 1 in every 50 women aged between 15 and 44 was a prostitute and some made the equivalent of $76,000 each year – I can’t go to bed with that chapter unfinished!
Today I have learned:
- business process mapping is becoming a necessary tool for my comms job
- I should maybe do some process mapping training so I can do it myself
Chicken and pear tagine
oil for frying and a slice of butter
2 onions, sliced
25g ginger chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
half a tsp turmeric
4 chicken fillets, cubed
a large slice of butter
3-4 tbsp runny homey
3 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onions and ginger and fry till soft. Ad the cinnamon and turmeric. Put in the chicken and coat it well with the onions and spiced oil. Pour in 600mls water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile melt the butter in a frying pan and stir in the honey. Add the pears and coat with the butter. Cook gently till they start to caramelise. Add the pears to the chicken pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste.
Serve with couscous and the sesame seeds scattered over the top.
The platform our website used to be built on started to crumble because it wasn’t supported and increasingly it required a lot of bespoke coding to make it do what we wanted. The decision was taken to go out to tender for a new generation CMS and all of the ones we looked at promised the earth and looked to be so simple that even an information officer like me with no coding skills except a smattering of html would be able to build and maintain a complex multi-layered website with hardly any effort.
CMS bought, we set to work building our new, shiny site. We also had three new developers join the team and between them and our design team we ended up with a great looking site. We’ve worked hard to make it task-centric and we do regular user testing but about 18 months ago I made a comment to my manager that I thought the new CMS had made us all a bit lazy. It looked after itself so there was no real thought from service managers and the front line about how we could make it even better.
I felt a bit for our developers who had ideas they couldn’t develop because the product wouldn’t let them and it was perceived that anything special they wanted to do was taking us back to the bespoke days, pre-CMS. As time went on this made no sense to me – coding is what they do so why shouldn’t they?
And then in February Gerry McGovern’s Decentralized publishing equals amateur web management blog hit my inbox. I love Gerry – I’ve read his books, done his webinars and heard him speak and I agree with most of what he says – and here he was confirming everything I’d been thinking about content management systems for a while.
There seems to be a feeling that if we let developers create websites from scratch we’re setting ourselves up for disaster if they walk. But think about it – actually if we have in-house developers who only use a CMS and they walk, finding another developer with those exact CMS skills will be a long and laborious task. Developers all speak from a set of coding languages, they use industry standards and, as long as a web build is properly documented, any number of developers worth their salt should be able to pick up previous work and run with it.
Content management systems are fine if there are no coding skills at all within your organisation and you’re relying on a marketing or comms team to do your website, with oodles of budget to spend on support from the CMS company. However, if you’re lucky enough to even have one developer – like Paul in Falkirk Council who I met last week and is starting out on this very journey – open source is the way to go. There’s a whole community out there offering free and instant support – no job tickets, no hidden fees and no waiting.
It’s time to adopt a developer, cut yourself free of the CMS reins and get building something exciting with the customer firmly in the middle.
Oh, and read Gerry’s blog because I’m with him on the centralised team which has access to customers, with continuous improvement based on user testing and evidence. Oh, and they have to be able to write killer content but most importantly be able to kill content. That’s not to much to ask is it?
Today I have learned
- content management systems are like baby walkers – we outgrow them at some point
- my hairdresser is a Jedi master
- I’ll probably only ever read fiction on holiday
I really struggled to pick a favourite Nouvelle Vague track cos I love them all but this one I want to put on repeat.
You can use any veg you like for this but I’d always include either spring greens or pak choi.
Sesame oil for frying
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp Lazy Red Chillies
a couple of handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
6 babycorn, chopped
a handful of sugar snap peas
2 heads of pak choi, leaves separated
2 tsp Lazy Ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
a good splash of soy sauce
a good splash of Chinese cooking wine
Method: Prep all your veg before you start. Heat the oil till smoking and add the onion, garlic, chillies and ginger. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, corn and peas and cook briefly before adding the pak choi. After 2-3 minutes add the fish sauce, sugar, wine and soy sauce and stir. Serve with noodles or rice.
I have struggled to bring you this post. We’ve had sketchy broadband and HimIndoors can’t make up his mind whether it’s a dodgy router, dodgy Zen or dodgy BT. On Friday I tried tethering the netbook to my phone but it wouldn’t find it. It’s been running slow for weeks now so today HimIndoors tried installing Ubuntu on it and it’s now as dead as a Python parrot. Luckily the broadband is up again so this post is brought to you via a wing and a prayer.
On Friday I was on the bill with Leah Lockhart at Falkirk Council facilitating a discussion with a group of graduates and modern apprentices, all working in local government comms teams. This was a follow-up to the panel discussion we took part in at the LGComms Scottish event in Perth at the end of March.
We had been tasked with teasing out of them what they thought was going well and what we comms teams could be doing better for them. There was seems to be some really good mentoring going on but in some places no real direction at all. Mentoring can be a hard gig unless you’ve had a good mentor yourself at some point in your career. I have done a coaching course and I think that would stand me in good stead but mentoring takes coaching up a whole level. It’s about passing on knowledge and skills but it’s also about how to conduct yourself and being a role model. I suspect that those graduates/apprentices who feel they are floundering have mentors who haven’t had mentors themselves.
I consider myself lucky. I’ve had three great bosses in my life. None of them had or has ever been described officially as a mentor but I guess they have been. Anyone can teach you the mechanical bit about a job like deadlines, contacts, how to top and tail a press release, how to book a photographer or how to use a content management system. A mentor will pass on the nuances of the job like how to get an editor on side, how to stage manage a photocall to get more than a line-up of suits, how to conduct yourself in management meetings. They will help you gain the confidence in yourself to step into their shoes when needed. They may not even recognise themselves as your mentor – they’ll just be getting on with their job but giving you the insight as asides, a chat over coffee or taking you along to meetings as back-up. If there’s someone you admire at work, watch how they go about their business and work out what it is about them that gives them the edge and the respect of others – what makes them tick. Can you weave that into your job at your level?
I’ve had one official mentor in my life and boy, is he a difficult act to follow. David Holdstock has a formidable track record but it’s difficult when your mentor is 340 miles away. I don’t really know how he operates in his daily life but I do know that he commands respect but still manages to have fun at work. I also know that if I ever have a question I can text or call him and if I’m ever in London or he’s up here we can meet up. When we do get together we chat about what I’m up to and about my future and the questions he asks generally get me thinking.
Overall the chat with the graduates was positive and we’re going to get a community set up for them on the Knowledge Hub so that they can link up with others around the country. The whole thing did make me feel ancient though. I started working the year most of them were born!
On Saturday I had a quick visit from John Fox who was travelling back down south from a holiday up north. We chatted about Socitm, task-centric websites, business processes and customer journey mapping. I pointed him in the direction of work done by Sarah Fogden and Gerald Power when they worked at the Cabinet Office. I met them when they spoke at a channel shift event and they were excellent. After that event I tracked the documents down to the National Archives but they now seem to be disappearing so I’ve saved them and put them here. These documents are invaluable if you want to get your head round business process re-engineering, how to make services Digital by Default, task-centric websites and customer-centric tasks. They are simple to understand and give you a step-for-a-hint if you have any senior management to convince.
This weekend I have learned:
- non-working tech drives HimIndoors insane
- I really should defrost my freezer more often
Heard this guy for the first time on Craig Charles’ show and was blown away. There’s no video but have a listen – the lyrics and the horn section are the video.
Double chocolate cake
100g self raising flour
40g cocoa powder
1.5 tsp baking powder
150g softened butter
150g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp milk
3 large eggs
For the frosting
100g softened butter
175g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
1 tbsp milk
Sprinkles to finish
Method: Grease and line a rectangular tin. Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar in another large bowl then mix in the vanilla and the milk.
Crack an egg into the butter bowl and beat in till smooth. Add a big spoon of the flour mixture and beat till smooth. Repeat till the eggs and flour mixture are used up.
Tip into the tin ans smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes till a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave till completely cool.
For the frosting: Put all the ingredients (minus the sprinkles) into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer. Put on top of the cake and smooth out with a palette knife. Add the sprinkles.