Friday 20 March 2009

Presenting Future Business People

The concentrating year 8 timekeepers, ready to signal time; the Year 11 joking extrovert who becomes the friendly toastmaster introducing and welcoming speakers to the front; The courageous speakers who overcome their fear to walk to the front and give a short presentation. These 11 students from Linton Village College had come together as a group to positively achieve more structured presentations by the end of a 90 minute session that had begun with a sea of somewhat apprehensive individuals!

The year 8 students had taken part in the Junior Chamber challenge to set up a business for £10 and make a profit. They were going to give a presentation at an assembly in the next month and needed to gain some presentation skills and experience. The year 11 were three individuals who also wanted to learn a bit more about public speaking.

Maria Briggs of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce had passed Katie Hart, Rhetonic, who was involved with the Junior Chambers, to me to help out with their presentation skills training as a public speaker, affiliated with Dale Carnegie and member of Toastmasters International. John Taylor was the teacher coordinating the activities at LVC and gave support during my visit.

It was a real pleasure to see how during our session, all the students were open to ideas and examples that they saw in other peoples presentations. They were willing to look at their first speech and positively strive to improve it by incorporating structure and five simple principles of Prepare, Keep it simple, Make it Exciting, Practice and End with a Bang!

So what were the businesses and how had they fared? Well, I'm not one to give the game away, we will have to wait until they give their public presentation to the school!

Good luck to the teams with their presentations and thanks for the pleasure of training with them.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Golf lawns and football pitches turning yellow

Thirty five Golf courses and 3 football pitches in the UK are developing large yellow patches that may signal the beginnings of a spread of a new pest within the UK. The patches are created by microscopic worms called nematodes (Meloidogyne minor see CSL 2007 Risk Assessment)which attack the roots of the grass species used for lawns & pitches, weakening the plants and causing the sickly patches.
From Blogger Pictures

Life cycle of Meloidogyne species which cause damage to plants by draining their resources

So far there are no known effective control measures and there is a small but real risk that the pest will be spread by golfers on their footwear to more of the existing 2600 golf courses in the UK with little chance of prevention. Currently, it appears that M. minor is indigenous to the UK, although similar cases have been seen in the Netherlands.

I was first made aware of this information when I visited Dr Amanda Cottage at NIAB where we reminisced about our past interest in the field of nematolode resistance when I was still a scientist.
Amanda is now a Plant Pathologist at NIAB, with responsibility for developing assays for new and existing diseases in mainly broadleaved plants. NIAB has a long tradition of trialling and testing for a variety of clients, from farmers to the Potato board.

With the increasing importance of rapid pest identification for UK agriculture and the need for faster responses, there is a necessity for the development of assays using the newest molecular techniques.

Angela's experience at the cutting edge of plant molecular research will be a key factor to developing this area for NIAB.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Profile - Stan Taylor

From Portrtaits and Lighting at HBN AGM08

This is a celebration of a great networker who was the face of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce for many businesses in and around the south of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and into the Fens.

Before joining the Chamber four and a half years ago, Stan had been with a successful interior design company and in business development for a B2B magazine.

He joined the Chamber just as John Bridge OBE was taking a vigorous approach to revitalise the Cambridgeshire Chambers and combat the national trend in declining membership within a very restricted budget. Whilst John was dealing with the strategic issues, Stan came in to provide a complementary strong interface on the ground with old, new and prospective members for his area.

One of John’s inspired innovations was the generation of the “Local Chambers”, Peterborough, Huntingdon and Cambridge, where local business people would volunteer their services (free) to support the Chamber and its activities locally. When I became the first Chair of the new Cambridge Chamber (and later when others took on the role), Stan was a key contact point on the Cambridge Committee and rapidly became an increasingly familiar and welcome face at events.

With a smile and a twinkle in his eye, Stan was soon the first warm welcoming point of networking meetings, who ensured that new faces were integrated into a more open style of networking, as opposed to the closed cliques that one might have formerly associated with the Chambers. His easy manner also won over many potential new members as he travelled around the South of Cambridgeshire.

Stan’s competence and networking skills meant that he assumed increasing responsibility, becoming the prime mover in setting up the Ely and Fenland Chambers. He began representing the Chamber on external bodies when John’s couldn’t attend, such as the Huntingdon Town Partnership, HDC Local Procurement, the Economic Development Forum and Business Against Crime. Stan was also proud of his assistance in setting up the St Ives Town Initiative networking.

John and the Chamber’s team had nurtured new special interest groups within the Chamber, such as the International and IT sectors. There were now also the free informal evening drop-in sessions which complemented the local Chambers and required Stan’s presence.

Many of us members were astounded by Stan’s apparently limitless energy, that would have him at a Chamber breakfast at seven in the morning to still mingling with attendees at an informal networking meeting in Huntingdon in the evening!

However, the increased workload and regular long working days that were a consequence of the Chamber’s success were taking their toll. Stan hit a bleak midwinter low when illness, the current economic climate and looming required retirement at 65 from the Chambers in April 09 all came together.

Fortunately, the return to health and the opportunity to continue utilising his networking skills for a new employer have had Stan bouncing back to his positive self. He is now with Huntingdonshire Regional College as their Engagement Coordinator (regular hours and time off in lieu!).

Stan is recognised as an excellent networker beyond the boundaries of any position he holds and respected for it by business people from all fields, Therefore –

If you know Stan, please add your comment or reminiscence below!

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Monday 16 March 2009

Patchwork Quilts, a declining artform?

In response to a local radioshow asking for responses on dealing with old duvets, I submitted the following:

"Duvets - If you are creative with a needle and thread or know someone who is, convert a thin duvet the into a patchwork to make a fantastic quilted gift!
Note: get the old duvet cleaned to kill dust mites and reduce dust mite allergens before quilting.
useful sites:"

The presenters response implied that making patchwork quilts was not a likely activity in this day and age.

This made me think, is this true? Am I an old fogey? My family enjoy the occasional craft (see my mothers patchwork cushions above)and I'm sure there is a quilting community.

What is your opinion? Quilting/Patchwork quilts: Dead art or alive and kicking. please comment below!

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Saturday 14 March 2009

Cambridgeshire history - boxed collection

There was a hint of the last Indiana Jones film as we entered the Count archaeology store on Saturday; admittedly, it did not have the scale and grandeur of the US National treasure store. The crates with lost ark and sundry gold treasures were replaced by cardboard boxes of notes, bones, pottery and skeletons and occasional metal artifact from archaeological digs all over the county. However, these were treasures in themselves, patiently collected from innumerable digs and retained for our posterity.

From Blogger Pictures

Arriving near to the end of the open day gave an unrivaled opportunity to plumb the expertise of Quinton Carroll (Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Team Manager). Standing near a Roman lead coffin with skeleton, able to admire the sheen of 2000yr old Samian ware, with its pristine, legible potter's mark, three historical stories stood out.

For example, Cambourne surprised the archaelogists. Due to the hard clay soil there, it had been regarded as poor land unlikely to be lived on. Now we know it was being actively farmed in Roman times. Local people developed ingenious solutions to deal with difficult soil conditions - for example by excavating beds and using different soils - a Roman manual even gave specific instructions for best asparagus growing.

Then consider two key events for our region, the Viking invasion and the Norman Conquest. The Vikings took Ely, and Cambridge in 876 and submitted to the Saxon King Edward in 917 without a battle. Yet no physical archaelogical evidence of the Viking occupation exists. Similarly, the Norman Conquest left no physical evidence to distinguish it from the Saxon period. Most people carried on living as before, adapting to the change of leadership. A total contrast to Boudica's sacking of Colchester, London and St Albans which left a layer of ash recogniseable two millenia later.

Third, defensive points were successively used over the centuries. The river at Earith was a strategic defence in both the Civil War and as part of the planned defences should England be invaded in WWII. The river crossing at Cambridge was controlled at the current Castle Mound by the Romans, the Civil War and became the site of a bunker during the cold war.

I asked Quinton, which finds or artefacts stuck particularly in his mind. He remembered a bone comb found at a Roman dig. Cheap and easily replaced. Still, it had been repaired and used until worn to uselessness, giving a poignent link across the ages. In contrast, he also remembered the skeleton of a Roman woman slave worked to death whose body had just been discarded with the rubbish in a ditch.

But how are archaeologists affected by our current "living in interesting times" economically? It appears that since constructions companies are obliged to finance any archaeological work and this is done by private companies, the downturn has resulted in a 10% - 15% drop in archaaeology work. An unexpected side effect!

A final question at the conclusion of our visit; With all the current Health and safety in the workplace and at home, what will we leave behind for future archaeologists to find? Quiton wryly remembered that already, one site had been dated by a crisp packet - and of course there will be a plethora of finds all concentrated in large collections - our landfill sites!

For further information on Cambridgeshire's archaeological heritage, you can contact Quinton and his team at