Houston, we have a problem

This week Dan Slee said something that has unnerved me

He was trying to persuade me to enter the Comms2point0 Unawards but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t nominate myself. I gave him my usual self-effacing, Scottish Calvinist guff.  If I put myself forward that implies I think I’m better than everyone else – how very dare I.

And then there’s the fear of failure.

“You have issues,” he joked.

Stop sniggering at the back.

Those words keep rattling round my head and I would now like to stand up and say, “My name is Carolyne Mitchell and I have issues – about self-belief and confidence – and it’s been over 40 years since I believed in myself.”

Mind you when I was 6 I also believed in fairies.

But Dan’s comment has got me wondering. I went to college instead of university then spent the next 20-odd years thinking I would have been too thick to get a degree anyway. Then I surprised myself and got a Masters in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs – with merit, may I add – from Robert Gordon University. At the time I kicked myself that I hadn’t got a distinction.

So, not only do I underachieve due to lack of confidence, when I do something noteworthy I put myself down because I could have done better.

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In part I blame my Scottish Calvinist upbringing but now that I think about it I also blame the Scottish education system.

Our children take the subjects they are good at and enjoy. Nothing wrong with that, except how can you know at the age of 13 that one day you’ll want to be a UX specialist or a string theorist? By taking the subjects that come easily, kids remain in their comfort zone. But then who wants to risk failure? If they continue that subject at university the comfort zone gets comfier. Then BAM! – it’s out into the big world where if they want to keep it comfy they’ll get a job in the public sector or a big multi-national where they can fit in, follow the rules and not make waves.

But find a child who pushes against the comfort and breaks through the cushion fort to try something outside the zone and you’re likely to find a problem solver. Or a child who isn’t academic but wants to win at life – Richard Branson fits into this category.

Just today I was talking to Scott Sherwood of Dynamically Loaded. He wanted to be an astrophysicist so took physics at university. He quickly discovered this wasn’t for him and changed to maths, didn’t like that so moved to computing science where he discovered that coders look at the world differently – and he fitted right in.

And solving problems builds confidence and self-worth, not just sailing through exams without trying.

But one child who will definitely win at life is Danny Barbieri. Danny is the photogenic son of a colleague at North Lanarkshire Council. He practically lives in his Superman costume. Superman was a problem-solver as well as a life-saver and I hope when Danny grows up he’ll always remember how he felt when he was wearing his red cape.


And good things happen to superhero problem-solvers, even when they are four. Danny was snapped in his Superman costume during a Scottish Referendum rally and appeared on the front page of all the newspapers. Powerful stuff.
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I’m away to look out my Wonder Woman costume to boost my self-confidence. While I’m away, will you nominate me for an Unaward please?


Ricki did Homework for all of us

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

Tonight’s track


Today’s recipe

Turkey with sage and lemon sauce

Serves 4


4 thin turkey breast slices, cut into bite sized pieces

3 lemons, 1 peeled and sliced thinly, the rest juiced

plain flour for dusting

60g butter

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.