Friday 25 November 2011

the Armourers' Hall of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers

I had the privilege of visiting the Armourers' Hall of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, a site occupied in London since 1346.

The reason for the visit was actually a talk on The Future of the International Monetary System by Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the ECB. It was after the talk that I had a chance to look around and get a better impression of the Livery Hall we had been in and prompt a request to be able to photograph in the building.

The Armourers' Hall had survived the Great Fire of London and The Blitz and is a little gem. It has been the home of The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers since 1346. The Company is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. Originally, the Armourers were responsible for producing armour and have had a link with the Army right through to the present day. Nowadays,The Company is now one of the leading charities in the UK supporting metallurgy and materials science education from primary school to postgraduate levels.

The armourers were given their first Royal Charter in 1453 by King Henry VI. I was thrilled to see the document for the Grant of Arms in 1556 up on the wall in the Court Room, the door to which had a lovely decorated door knob with the mottos "We Are One" and "Make All Sure" that included the Brasiers, who had joined the company sometime in the sixteenth century. The same room contains the petition to Queen Anne in 1708 for a charter including the Brasiers. Another lovely illustrated document, though possible water damaged, is the grant of Bye-Laws under the Charter of Elizabeth I in 1570 in the hall.

Ultimately, I was drawn back to the Livery Hall with its gorgeous lights and the Arms of Aldermen on the walls.   En masse, they provide a colourful adornment to the panelling, however, close up, individual arms are little works of art - and often humour. These are but a few of the collection of Arms of the Alderman of the Company from more than two centuries.

Downstairs, I particularly liked the conjunction of mediaeval armour with an example of more modern Bristol armour

The last minutes before leaving the building I was attracted by the Victorian tiling on the floor. I then tipped my forehead to the bicorne hat in the downstairs office and left, delighted to have had the privilege of visiting this Hall.

This is one of four articles relating to a visit to London on 23rd November 2011:

The International Monetary System is to local crises like the climate is to weather

From Wordle-images

Allow me to explain how a talk on the future of the International Monetary System (IMS) left me with the insight that the IMS is to local crises like the climate is to weather. I had made the trip to London especially for the talk by Vítor Constâncio, Vice-President of the European Central Bank. His talk “The Future of the International Monetary System” was part of the OMFIF Golden Series on World Money. The venue was the gem that is the Armourers' Hall, residence of The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers since 1346.

The talk was set against the backdrop of a third governmental change in Europe, this time in Spain, as part of the Eurozone crisis contagion. News programs were still ringing with the automatic triggering of historic drastic financial cuts in US public spending. UK politics and public opinion were trending towards the more insular. Just a mile away, the tent city (well hamlet actually) of Occupy London was still firmly ensconced outside St Pauls and major industrial action by UK public sector unions was planned for the 30th November.

In these “interesting” financial times, how could I resist attending an event on the future of the IMS!

Understanding the broad principles

Initially, Vítor Constâncio's talk gave me an insight into the roles of the International Monetary System (IMS), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and international currencies.

As Vítor Constâncio explained, the origin and basis of the IMS was to establish an orderly system of payment that works with internal currencies, exchange, adjustment and liquidity. Liquidity and adjustment would enable external stability, with exchange rates and capital flow as core functions.

The system is not perfect - in good times, trade imbalances can arise and there used to be little incentive for market discipline.

International currencies

The future of the international monetary system fosters international currencies. The reality is that no single currency can support international finance. To date, the US dollar has been the dominant international currency. However, the Euro is now the second most important currency, though it is more regional. It has held up remarkably well despite the Eurozone crisis. The belief is that when stability returns, it has potential for more influence in the future.

The Chinese Renminbi (RMB) is a new contender. Liberalisation and internationalisation will assist its growth into an international currency.

A view of the future

So how can the IMF contribute towards the IMS goal during the current economic fluctuations? IMF resources have been trebled since 2008, though Vítor Constâncio felt  more financing is required to get countries to lower reserves (to stimulate the economy?). The multilateral surveillance of the impact of IMF and International Committee actions needed to be strengthened and more research conducted into the impact of any measures.

Are IMF changes over the next 10 to 15 years sufficient? Vítor Constâncio thought so, though he expected a bumpy ride to a multi-polar international monetary system. Requirements are domestic growth & demand and the EU learning the lessons from the current crisis.

The IMS to crisis is as climate to weather?

Absorbing the tenets of the talk (however inaccurately), listening to the question and answer session and a brief talk with Vítor Constâncio immediately afterwards did give rise to two overall impressions.

There is the long term – and there is the short term.

The discussions and opinions expressed as part of the event largely represented the longer term.  They looked towards continued gradual internationalisation and stability in finance, involving nation states, regional groupings and international currencies. The time-scales are in decades, the impact is global. The fluctuations are evened out – like the gradual change in climate.

The current environment of savage national economic readjustments is the short term. The dramatic political and social reactions, the “adjustments” and counter-reaction are occurring explosively within days, months or a year. The rapid fluctuations are similar to our experiences of apparently capricious weather events.

So, in my mind, the long term perspective of the International Monetary System is to the very current crises as the climate is to weather.

Final thoughts

As I return to the current reality of survival in an immediate unpredictable environment, can I be reassured by the promise of long term positive change?

Or should I be worried about a potential increasing irrelevance of national democracy, subservient to international finance, spikily summarised in the joke “Banker are no longer bankers, they are potential prime ministers!”.

Alternatively, will there be cataclysmic social upheaval from an angry populace, bearing the brunt of adjustments, who make the same link as the tent city placard “If criminals can't print money, why can banks?” and negate any chance of change.

I am more of an optimist. Like Vítor Constâncio, I believe that long term, things should improve, it will just be a bumpy ride.

This is one of four articles relating to a visit to London on 23rd November 2011:

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Some stained glass of St Lawrence Jewry, London

After a meeting in the Armourers' Hall to hear a talk on the future of the International Financial System, I took a walk through Cheapside and came upon the church of St Lawrence Jewry. It is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation and stands in the Yard of the Guildhall.

The original church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Seriously damaged during the bombing of London, it was rebuilt in the style of Wren by 1957.

The stained glass windows also date from the restoration in 1957. The ones that caught my attention were the three in the Commonwealth chapel, which depict countries part of the Commonwealth in 1957. The East Windows, of St Paul and St Catherine show the figurative style at the time.

I also photographed the Thomas More window as he apparently was born in Milk St a few yards away from the church.

All the pictures photographed here were designed by Christopher Webb. They are present at full resolution, 10 Mpx, so that you can zoom in on the detail if you wish.

This is one of four articles relating to a visit to London on 23rd November 2011:

Walk from Moorgate to Holborn, via The Armourers Hall, St Pauls demo and St Laurence Jewry

I visited London today, primarily to attend an OMFIF talk on the future of the International Financial System. The talk was held in the Armourers Hall where I also spent some time photographing the interior details that interested me.

After the meeting, I thought I would walk to Holborn to catch the Piccadilly line back to Kings Cross.I love the way that, especially in the City, old buildings and new are juxtaposed or integrated, so photographed a few on the way.

The route went through the Ward of Cheap, which seemed amusing after attending a finance meeting. However, the real old meaning of Cheap was Market. Cheap is one of the 25 wards in the City of London, each electing an Alderman, to the Court of Aldermen and Commoners (the City equivalent of a Councillor) to the Court of Common Council of the City of London Corporation.

The area is also rife with halls of the different livery companies.

A major stop was the church of St Lawrence Jewry where I photographed some of the modern stained glass.

I then diverted to St Pauls Cathedral as the last news had been that the protester's tent city that I had seen a couple of weeks back was to be cleared. However, when I arrived, the protest was still very visibly present! Asking a couple of bobbies, I learnt that the matter was back in the courts.

From there on it was a straight line walk to Holborn, taking one or two further pictures.

The route is roughly given here:

View Larger Map

This is one of four articles relating to a visit to London on 23rd November 2011:

Stained glass in the cloisters of Worcester Cathedral

Travelling back from Hereford on a dreary, wet Monday, I stopped off at Worcester and went to visit the Cathedral for the first time. With only a couple of hours and my small pocket camera, I liked the story in stained glass all around the cloisters.

The cloister windows on three (and a bit) sides, facing the herb garden, give the story of the English church through the ages, from Saxon times to the end of the 19th Century. Then there was a major new work, the Window of the Millenium, by the artist Mark Cazalet. This was an etched window and was easier to view from the Herb garden.

Photographically, the lighting was very poor due to the grey winter weather. Exposure times ranged from  1/8 to 1/25, averaging at 1/15, a challenge for me, trying to find support, and for the anti-shake function.

I've uploaded the pictures at full size (10Mpx) to the Picasa album so that you can zoom in to see the detail - follow the link from the slideshow above.

Worcester Cathedral is now definitely in my books for a return visit - with a tripod and the SLR - on a better day!

Sunday 20 November 2011

Making your own video: 10 points I found useful

Returning from a networking meeting, I wanted to make a quick video. You can see the result below. What I found was that “quick” took a bit longer than I had blithely assumed – about an hours work for the 1 minute video. Here are the ten steps for successfully making a simple video yourself.

1. Planning your story

No matter how long or short, how impromptu or meticulously thought through, you need to plan the story your video is going to tell. This affects all other nine following points. If you are going to be the one recorded, plan it out briefly in paper.

Rehearse your story repeatedly, in your mind or out loud– it is amazing how blank your mind goes in front of a camera! Preparation helps

My planning was:

Key message: I should have included video in my networking introduction (subtitle: video is something that I can and do do on other occasions)

Overall story is reaction to a networking meeting I had just attended
  • Mention host
  • Mention location
  • Sunrise
  • Conversations – business, tattoos, fish, book, glass ceiling
  • Key point – being made aware that I should include video in my communication
  • Thanks for the insight
  • End
2. Choosing a video camera

Many cameras can now also record video at HD quality (720px or even 1080px wide), so this is less of an issue for first experiments. I recommend having a play with what you have at hand first. Then, if you want to make more demanding videos, you will have a better idea of what to look for in a more dedicated device.

My decision was actually made for me in that the resolution of my pocket camera's video is too low (320px), the battery on my hand held video-camera had run out  - that only left the HD video-cam on the desktop!

3. Lighting

To give a good picture, a video camera needs lots of light, more so than a stills camera. Lighting also impacts on the appearance of you or your subject. Ironically bright sunlight on a face causes a lot of glare; if your subject has its back to the sun then it is likely to be in deep shade relative to a brightly lit background. So a bright day with your subject out of the direct sun and a not too brightly lit background is preferable.

I was fortunate in that there is a window high up behind my PC which let in enough light on my face for filming.

4. Microphone

I learnt very early on that the microphone and how it is used is critical for a video. Primarily, because it not only picks up the sound you want but all other background noise. Outside recordings really suffer from this. So, the closer you can get to your microphone to the sound you want to record the better. Even in a radio studio for example, I found the mike literally thrust right into my face during interviews. This means that the near sounds drown out those further away.

So if you can, have a separate microphone that either plugs into your video-camera or records sound independently so you can add it to the video later.

In this instance I used the video-cam microphone about a meter from me. A good sound system will pick out the noise of a loudly ticking clock and the fans of the computer in the video above.

5. Location

Because video is visual, where you film is important, even if it is a backdrop. Make sure that it is a relevant location to your film. My intention had been to record either as I was walking or standing in the nearby country park on the way back from the meeting I talk about.

The rationale was that if I recorded whilst taking the path through the village, I would have had noisy traffic drowning out my voice and anyway, the country park gave a pleasanter environment.

Not having a camera with me and then finding that the two outdoor cameras were unavailable put paid to that idea.

I therefore settled for an office recording.

6. Background

Once you have a generally suitable location in terms of atmosphere and low noise background, look at what is in the background of any scene you are going to record. I've used a Railway crossing, the River Cam, picturesque St Ives from the river to deliberately set up a particular atmosphere.

Try recording a few short clips of your scene before deciding on a final location and background and you will soon see how dramatically you can influence the look of your video. If you can control the background, say with a screen, by choosing a neutral wall etc., great!

Whilst my office background is OK when having a friendly Skype conversation, it is too distracting (code for untidy).  I therefore used a large sheet of white paper to create a neutral background.

7. Recording

Once everything is in place, hit the record button and do a trial. If you are happy, go on to record the actual video, bearing the following things in mind.

Make sure there is a spare second on the video before the action starts and again that there is a bit of extra recording beyond the end of your story. This helps later with editing. Remember to save the clips in a format that your video editor (see editing below) can open,

Make several takes of the same video. I think I made 5 recordings before I had the one that I wanted.

For longer films, split the recording into several shorter recorded scenes. It makes life much easier as some parts of a story just seem to fall into place whilst others seem to need more work. By having several scenes, you can do work in stages. These are then stitched together later.

8. Editing

Basic video editors are available for free, with Windows Movie Maker being a good example. They allow you to upload your raw video recordings and tidy them up. You can determine where the real start and end of a video is. If you recorded several scenes, you can arrange them together the way you want. You can also add additional titles, effects and sounds.

This is where you turn your raw video into a proper little film.

Save your final video in a format that is acceptable for whatever video service you want to use.

9. Publishing

Most people set up an account with YouTube and upload their videos there, I do. It is an easy way to start and share.

To do this you need:

  • Your video file  in a format accepted by YouTube -see
  • A reasonably fast internet connection
  • A YouTube account (go to
  • Time – video files are large and take a while to upload, depending on how large they are and how fast your connection is.
  • Relevant information about your video, its title and how you would describe and categorise it.

The uploaded video is then processed further by YouTube. This again takes time. Be patient.

My short video uploaded in about 2 minutes and took a further 2 minutes to process by YouTube. With previous 10 minute videos it took up to an hour to upload and the same amount of time again to process by YouTube before it was live.

10. Publicising

Once your video is up on the web, copy the link to it and send it to all who you think might be interested. I used Twitter and e-mail to let people know about mine.

One of the most fascinating things is which of your videos generate traffic and which do not. For example, my English video “Five Memorable Key Steps to Ensure a Good Presentation” has 8000+ hits, yet the German version "Fünf Tipps zur Perfekten Rede"  has now gone over 12000!


You can make your own videos quite simply. Using the ten points above, you can ensure that you make a video that you are happy with, whether it is a video-blog report on the fly or a finely crafted film production!

Go out and make a video!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

How to Make Britain a more successful exporter. Part B.

From Wordle-images

This is the second of two articles prompted by Prime Minister David Cameron's LinkedIn request for business input - on how Britain could become more successful at exporting (Part A here)

Part B. Encourage small businesses to partner and provide a more comprehensive service 

A very effective route, especially for SMEs or microbusinesses, is to work in partnership on projects.

If you wish to enter an overseas market with a particular product, look for partners who have products or services that, together with yours, enhance the offer you can provide.

Example 1. Overseas assistance:

I provide assistance for overseas companies wishing to find contacts and markets in the UK. My company's (Milton Contact Ltd) strengths are communication - helping companies adapt their product information, accompanying on visits and acting as a Peer to Peer advisor on their behalf.

I partner with another business (Europartnerships) that has long established contacts abroad and is effective at the project proposal and business generation side in a range of countries. In turn, together we co-opt partners who can help with: client acquisition in the overseas location; Market research; Finding contacts; Arranging appointments for our clients.

By working together, we provide a breadth of service and skills that can tackle larger projects. Being modular also means that we can be as small or large as we wish.

Example 2. Web based English language tutoring site for professionals

I'm currently part of a UK collaboration that includes a web designer and Legal English Language Experts - aiming to launch an internet based language tutoring site for international business people in 2012. 

Examples 3. German businesses coming to UK

My clients are adopting this strategy too - see previous reports:
Entering a new market requires persistence
Historic buildings and future-proofing the skills to restore them: DE and GB experts meet in London

Collaboration between SMEs or microbusinesses - a strong tool to enable a larger, sound business presence internationally.

How to Make Britain a more successful exporter. Part A.

From World Economies Infographics

"How do you think Britain could become more successful at exporting? And if you do export, let’s hear your success stories."

These were the relevant questions posed by the Prime Minister David Cameron on LinkedIn, following last week's joint UK Trade and Industry/Department for Business Innovation and Skills conference on 'Exporting for Growth.

And with good reason, as he went on to explain "We know that exporting is good for the economy. Sixty per cent of the UK’s productivity growth is due to companies who export and those that do are eleven per cent more productive."

The Prime minister expressed an interest in hearing businesses' views and during his speech, he announced a business growth package to help Britain’s small and medium sized enterprises create jobs, export to new markets, secure finance and cut red tape.

Naturally, I thought about the issue and came up with two distinct answers, based on my experience.
A. Making it easier for small businesses to even think about exporting and
B. Encourage small businesses to partner and provide a more comprehensive service.

Point A is expanded further below.
Point B is tackled in "How to Make Britain a more successful exporter. Part B."

A. Making it much easier for small and micro-businesses to even think about exporting.

Here my two recommendations:

1. Mail the following basic information. As a single sheet.
 a) Infographic on the potential markets out there for UK markets to tackle.
 b) Bullet point signposting on entering new markets abroad
c) Basic information on the costs and financial assistance available

2. Follow up with well publicised country/tradeshow visits. 
Actively target companies in chosen sectors, do not wait for them to come to you.


For example, here is information on UKTI support and costs/subsidies that actually took quite a while to compile
  • Export Market Research scheme - up to 50% support for agreed costs 
  • Export Communication Review £350 subsidy towards £500 cost for first review 
  • Overseas Marketing Info Service - from as little as £225 to £2000, depending on your requirements
  • Tradeshow Access Program for SMEs - From £1000 to £1800 assistance 
  • Free Political and Economic Updates. 
Small business leaders are pressed for time. A short prompt with relevant information is more likely to direct them to find out more.

The next step for those who are prompted by the initial short message: They may then be ready for the UKTI document "Your Export Opportunity - Our insight" ( It is positive and generally informative.

It is only then that the UKTI website with its wealth of detailed information and services available for the future exporter becomes relevant. By this time the interested party has hopefully the incentive to take valuable business time to dig for more information.

Making it very easy for businesses to make a taster trip to an exhibition abroad would also be of great benefit. There is nothing like physical presence at an event for meeting people and being open to new ideas and opportunities.

I am a UK provider of projects, market research, contacts and appointments for overseas companies entering the UK. There is a real push by countries such as Germany to enter markets in the EU and abroad and I've accompanied four or five delegations on the past year, often comprised of micro- businesses.

Whilst only a small proportion of companies then follow through and persist, it is a numbers game. The more that try, the more that will become active exporters. See how Germany has maintained its growth.

Where are tomorrows markets? See my infographic here based on IMF projections for 2010-2016

Monday 14 November 2011

From Science to Fashion: A former colleague talks about her ethical fashion business Samamba

I'm just chatting to Denise Elliott, who was a colleague and excellent assistant when we were both in Biotech and before we escaped into running our own businesses.

Denise is running an ethical fashion business called Samamba based in Cambridge. She is active at most of the major festivals and of course, with Christmas coming up, will be at the Christmas Markets, for example Netherhall Shopping Nights on Friday the 18th and Bury St Edmunds on the 25th - 27th November.

Denise began Samamba with handmade jewellery, using natural materials such as semi precious stones, freshwater pearls, mother of pearl, glass, seeds and wood, for example. This is still is the mainstay of her business. Clothes and accessories then also entered her portfolio.

However, the amazing new item is Hula Hoops - which she makes tailor-made for customers. So whether you are a petite child or have a fun maturer figure - Denise can make a hula hoop for you. Apparently, it is not only great exercise - but warms you up. Hula Hoops have been a real hit for Denise at the festivals wherever she gives workshops.

Samamba's new product line in development is the use natural plant dyes for fabrics which she hopes to bring to the market fir the 2012 season. Currently Denise sources her own fabrics and she is now eager to find sources of fully organic cotton. This may mean helping a local farmer in Thailand or Turkey to convert their crops to organic methods.

Apart from catching up, our talk turned to vital business items such as best ways to improve your online presence. I recently modernised my website and Denise is eager to do the same.

When we started, it was all basic HTML coding - now there are excellent content management systems that make it much easier to have a professional looking website which can be updated more easily.

Blogs are also an excellent communication tool and social media such as Twitter and very importantly for business to client companies, Facebook.

If you are interested in ethical fashion accessories from Samamba, have a look at Denise Elliott's site Put it in your favourites and check out the new site as it is developed over the coming months.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

The Eurozone crisis: It's all about trust

From World Economies Infographics
What is the real issue behind the current crisis in the Eurozone? Trust. Which is why the situation is so unpredictable and rapidly changing.

On average, an EU country has a debt burden that is 80% of its annual GDP (see chart), with all the larger economies being the major culprits.

What distinguishes say Germany from Italy? It is the trust of a country's lenders in the country's ability to pay back the debt if challenged.

As small businesses we know that the trust you have gained from your clients is a hard-won achievement. We also know that that trust can be easily lost.

Unfortunately, there is a multiplicity of different trusts at play in the current European crisis.

For example, because Italy needs such a large bailout, questions begin to arise whether the other Eurozone countries can afford to cover it. France is now working desperately to ensure that it maintains its triple A credit rating.

Then there is the trust by a nation's people in their government's decisions. Current economic measures cause dramatic changes in existing social contracts and real job insecurity. If a tipping point is reached, trust in a government is lost and it becomes untenable - see the escalating protests at home and abroad.

Trust is an emotional issue. Logical arguments take a second place.

Which path the crisis will take - resolution by sudden inspired leadership, total collapse due to national popular revolts or a mess in-between - is unpredictable.

The one certainty is: These trust issues will have a major impact on us all. Prepare for the worst and hope that we will be pleasantly surprised.