Friday, 30 September 2011

Who is Dame Evelyn Glennie?

From Wordle-images
I counted myself lucky to still get a ticket to see Dame Evelyn Glennie, the world renowned musician, give a motivational speech at the joint Business Club / Inspired Group event last night. I was not disappointed as she riveted us in a marimba accompanied journey. All this in support of three charities, East Anglia Childrens Hospices, Scotsdales Charitable Foundation and Able Child Africa.

Full Photo Album by 361 Photography here 
Of course, when she began with a dramatic piece on the marimba, it matched with my preconceptions of Dame Evelyn Glennie, Percussionist. But then she explained how and why she played the piece the way she did and we began to understand that she was something more …

When Evelyn receives a composition as sheet music, she listens to her inner feelings and emotions, looks to the audience and venue and then gives her intensely personal interpretation. Sharing with us how the music could be played by rote and then comparing it with her interpretation was a dramatic illustration as the difference was so great once heard. We were also introduced to an important part of what Evelyn saw fundamental to her approach to life, being a …

“Of course!” You might say, “She's a musician!” But Evelyn meant more than that. It was taking time to listen to her inner self, to listen to others and listen to the wider environment. Then she would digest and work through the information to come up with a plan of action. Musically, this could be finding out about a score, the venue and audience, and creating a vision of that performance, one that would be radically different between a venue such as cathedral and the Albert Hall. From a career perspective, it was noticing as a young woman the scarcity of percussion scores and the perception at the time of what was expected of a percussionist. Her solution was radical and yet simple, showing another facet to Evelyn Glennie …

Evelyn wrote several hundred letters to composers (in the days before e-mail and push button mailing lists!), asking for percussion compositions. This was well before she was a recognised artist. Yet some did respond and as time went on, international compositions also arrived, expanding her experience and repertoire. She created her own opportunities. Of course this took time! So inbetween, Evelyn added another string to her bow as a …

Motivational Speaker?
It began with visiting schools and helping ignite the musical sparks in the young. As her career as a musician grew, Evelyn also expanded her motivational skills to encompass all walks of life, all ages. She is now equally renowned internationally for her motivational talks as her musical ability. As a member of the Hunts Speakers (part of Toastmasters International) I was impressed not only with her incredible lack of “ums” and “ers” but also with the fantastic vocal variety, passion and enthusiasm with which she talked.

But who/what IS Dame Evelyn Glennie?
Why the question marks for her different facets above? They are boxes. The undercurrent of both Evelyn's talk and the passionate presentation was; Whatever simple description for her or set of facets that you apply; They are merely pigeon-holes.

Dame Evelyn Glennie is herself, and she is constantly changing.

For me personally, the message at the end of the evening was: Be yourself; Seek out new challenges; Do your best.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Blindness - disability or different life style?

Useful Hereford thePoint4 location linked to the RNCB inspires thoughts on remote working, leads to interesting contact and thoughts on blindness - disability or a different life style.

Spending time in Hereford whilst a relative is having a new Gas heating installed, I have been popping into thePoint4 Bistro, just off Venn's Lane. The refreshments were welcome and access to the free Wifi even more so as it permitted me to keep up with e-mails and do quite a bit of remote working on a range of urgent projects. Tweeting about the venue brought me to the attention of the very active twitter streams of @thePoint4 and @RNC_official, leading to an impromptu friendly meeting with the marketing and communications manager, Katrina Wilcox.

Now, I had not really given blindness or partial sightedness a second thought as it is a common sight to see students wandering confidently with either white canes or dogs around the Venns Lane part of Hereford, where the Royal National College of the Blind is situated. Pure convenience had taken me to the associated venue thePoint4 - food, drinks and free Wifi being the driving factors. However, with a few minutes to relax at the end of the day, it did remind me of an educational business accompaniment I had undertaken earlier in the year.

I found out by accident that the director of one of the companies from Germany visiting London, a quality fruit wine manufacturer whom I was to accompany to various business meetings with potential UK partners, was practically blind. Going into overdrive I thought of all the issues about travelling around the metropolis and contacted a number of organisations to see if they could advise me on how best to help my guest in terms of moving around. I was prepared when meeting him at the airport - and found myself a victim of my own preconceptions.

My guest had brought a companion to assist but, quite frankly, most of the time did not seem to require them as we wandered through the busy streets of London from appointment to appointment. Everything had been thought out including the arrangement and storage of the samples to be shown to potential partners, such that they were taken out and arranged in a convenient sequence to go with the business conversation. By day 2 I'd forgotton his "disability".

At the end of the trip, as we were having a last celebratory Indian meal in a relaxed restaurant by the Thames and I asked, how on earth my guest had come to be a specialist wine producer, fermenting and bottling all the products himself. "Well", he said. "It was easier to set up my own business doing what I enjoyed than trying to find a job!"

Which brings me back to my meeting with Katrina at thePoint4. She has a fantastic project underway - a full colour book under the aegis of the RNCB with stories of 14 or so similarly inspirational people. I also know that she is open to finding funding and sponsorship for this book. The aim is to publish early in 2012.

To find out more and see if you can be involved to help complete this project, contact Katrina at the RNCB on 01432 265725.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

European court ruling on honey containing products from GMOs makes sense

From Wordle-images

My first reaction to hearing today about the European court ruling on honey containing products from GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) was one of exasperation! I had been listening to on the BBC's Food Program on honey. However, when I actually dug deeper and read both the final ruling of the 6th September 2011(available in English here) and the thankfully clearer summary in an earlier Press Release (available in English here), I found myself agreeing with the sentiments of the well reasoned judgement.

The key point of the ruling is:
You cannot put honey on the market if it contains “Products of GMOs” which have not been authorised for use in honey. 

The story and rationale is as follows:

  • Several Bavarian beekeepers had found that their honey contained DNA and trace amounts of GM protein from Monsanto Maize variety, MON-810, growing on an experimental plot 500m away from the hives. 
  • The maize variety was one of two authorised to be grown and used for animal feed in the EU under the “Deliberate Release” Directive 2001/18 and also in producing products from GMOs, namely maize flour, maize gluten, maize meal, maize starch, maize glucose and maize oil. Note that some EU countries have unilaterally banned its use. 
  • The court considered how honey was produced and defined. The inclusion of trace amounts of pollen in extracted honey is part of the process – indeed, pollen grains can be used to test the origin and provenance of individual honeys. 
  • By current definitions, Pollen from a genetically modified plant is a GMO if it can still fertilise another plant. Now, by the time pollen has ended up in honey, it is no longer capable of fertilising another plant and legally ceases to be a GMO. 
  • However, the inactive pollen and the nectar from a GMO plant that have been turned into honey by busy bees are deemed by the court as “Products of GMOs”. 
  • In the original application and granting of permission for use of Maize MON-810, honey was not included as one of the permissible uses for “Products of GMOs”. 
  • Therefore the honey containing products from Maize MON-810 cannot be placed on the market at this moment in time. 
I cannot fault the logic.

Is this the end of the world for honey (we import a substantial amount from countries using GM crops) or for the use of GMOs? No. For Monsanto, the obvious next step would be to add a new application for deliberate release which includes the use of MON-810 products in honey, even if this is incidental. Any honey then produced which contains these products would be labelled as containing GMOs.

The use of GMOs for food is controversial in the EU, with views polarised on both the pro and anti sides. However, the current European court ruling on honey containing products from GMOs shows that legal safeguards and procedures are in place – and working.

Court ruling in English: 
Summary from an earlier press release: 

The author, Dr Chris Thomas, had over 20yrs experience working in the GM plant industry before setting up his own, totally unrelated company in 2004.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Making shopping in Luxor an enjoyable experience: David's Papyrus Shop in Luxor

For those who believe that shopping in Egypt on holiday is equal to persistent hawking, there are gems such as Davids's Papyrus Shop in Luxor, where you have a much friendlier reception. I found it through a set of unusual circumstances.

Taking part on a Nile cruise (a holiday of a lifetime), we were offered an impromptu trip into Luxor for some window shopping. I was apprehensive because of the past week's experience of the very aggressive selling and hawking tactics at the sites we visited. I therefore tagged along with Myra, Amanda and Jacqui, who had been to Luxor and Egypt many times and had also suggested visiting the gardens at the Old Winter Palace Hotel.

I needed some cash from the ATM next to the hotel, when suddenly a figure dashed out and embraced Myra, it was an Egyptian family friend who they had known as David since he was a child.

I was drawn along, not sure whether to intrude, but David made me welcome too and we sat down in the shop as he prepared a cup of sweet tea for us all.

David's real name is Amin Ahmed Abd El Guoad. Myra and Amanda had met the family in 1999 on their first cruise, through mutual friends who already knew of a friendly quayside shop for purchasing bottled drinking water.

The acquaintance grew into friendship over the coming two years during repeat visits. Myra and Amanda were invited to the family home and onto the boat, for the family were fishermen as well as having a souvenir come tourist shop. They would help with outings and arranging things for their English friends. At this time David/Amin was still just a young 17. When David/Amin surprised them with his welcome embrace, they had not seen each other for ten years.

In that decade, David/Amin and his cousin Ashraf had set up their own shop, realising an ambition to open a small quality enterprise in the courtyard adjoining the Old Winter Palace. This prestigious hotel has catered for famous guests such as Howard Carter, the famous archaeologist who discovered Tutenkamun's tomb nearly a century ago, and Hilary Clinton and Princess Diana in more recent times.

It was this new shop where the reunion tea took place; amongst signed painted papyri, tiers of mother of pearl inlay boxes, with their glittering geometric designs in the Arabic tradition, and wood carvings of animals, bowls and other essential tourist paraphernalia.

In this relaxed environment, catching up with news and new developments, there was a natural interest in what special items David/Amin was now selling.  I was not ready to buy anything but was not made to feel uncomfortable once this became clear. Myra took a shine to a delicate silver ankh that matched the sparkle in her eyes as we left an hour later to catch the bus back to our boat.

What a contrast to the pressure selling where you might be duped into one sale of a tacky knick knack and vow never to come back. Here, in David/Amin's shop I was left with the feeling that this was a safe place to return to – and suggest to others.

From a business perspective, the best client is one who wants to buy. Most tourists do want to buy gifts for friends and relatives as well as memorabilia. Yet time and time again I observed on our holiday how aggressive hawking outside shops put off the very clients they were seeking.

So, for a more enjoyable shopping experience for you and your customers, give them time to breathe.

And the next time you are in Luxor, I recommend a visit to David/Amin's “The Papyrus Shop”, in the courtyard by the Old Winter Palace Hotel.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

New Business Exhibition at Wood Green

If you went down to Wood Green today
You were sure of a big surprise
If you went down to Wood Green today
You Watched out for detecting Pis

For every business in Huntingdon there was
Gathered together to exhibit because
Today was the day we had a new Exhibition!

To be fair there were about 25 exhibitors with a scattering of visitors by the time I arrived around 5pm, having been delayed by completing a very long and complicated report. There were familiar faces and new ones. The latter included the private investigators of Heather Nesbitt Ltd, available for small and large projects, who also featured a collection of appetising cup cakes produced by Purple Sloth.

Chatting to Ken Seymour of KTS Computers Ltd., who had installed the WiFi for the Exhibition, revealed a common theme; good contacts were being made with the visitors who had come to the exhibition.

My favourite new business name was “Intelligent Penguin”, whose designer Karen Wells and director Paul Allington specialised in web design.

Mark Cooney and partners had put together an independent business exhibition which also included entertainment by a series of acts during the event and also brought in speakers on a variety of topics. Naturally not everything runs smoothly when you have such an ambitious first start – but I would be interested in coming along and perhaps even exhibiting there in a years time.

The exhibition was supporting a number of charities who had also brought their stands. I chatted for a while with Kate Angus who was one of four dedicated representatives in the UK for Action Duchenne. Duchennes is a devastating form of muscular dystrophy, a hereditary disease that only affects boys – and kills them by their twenties. Find out more about them at For more about the exhibitors, entertainers and speakers – visit

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Making social media relevant to your business

From Wordle-images

I just returned from a successful event, organised by Richard Wishart, on "Social media-is it really relevant to my business?" (
Thirty plus attendees had come from as far afield as Colchester for a practical insight into the use of social media for businesses. A brief summary of the presentations and useful links and keywords arising in the meeting are given below.

Richard Wishart, Delivery Management, concentrated on the intensive use of social media to forge contacts and participate effectively at events, giving practical examples and a detailed account of how he incorporated social media as a vital ingredient in his business development. Richard's additional strength was his background in technology and insatiable appetite to see what the new tools would be. Google+ is the new kid on the block and it was very useful to see the features and hear about their strengths and unique selling points contrasted with more established media.

Chris Thomas, Milton Contact, introduced social media as a natural extension of physical networking, giving an insight to the ease and time required to make entries in short posts such as twitter, participate in groups and discussions in Linkedin and to write informative blogs.

Two key elements were the 1. the interconnected use of different social media to complement each other and 2. the ability to collate media streams either in your personal online newspaper (using or in Hootsuite (online) or Tweetdeck (device based).

Desiree Ashton, Virtual PA, reminded us of the incredible speed in which the social media had penetrated into social and business consciousness. Continually keeping ahead of the game was essential so that she could assist her clients to make that jump from the small goldfish bowl to the larger one in the world-wide web.

Established blogger and networker, Ann Hawkins, The Inspired Group, rounded off the afternoon by chairing the discussion and questions in a friendly and approachable way. Ann reminded us of the key element of using social media, the reintroduction of fun into a business environment. Where else could you gain an insight into the interests and personalities into the aspects that are most important in any business, the people who make it work.

The final question was on measuring the return in investment in social media. The beauty of using online social media is that they do permit the collection of real data, not just in terms of connections but also in linking preferences or success in redirecting to relevant sites. Ultimately, the ROI is a very individual aspect for each individual and company.

The ROI depends on the aims and objectives for using social media. Whilst for Chris it is a matter of increasing online presence, for Richard it is finding key contacts, connections and most importantly, creating opportunities between interested parties in his technology sectors. Desiree's key role is finding social media solutions that are appropriate for and tailored to her business contacts and Ann's in building an internet based, positive community that could also participate in her Inspired Group networking events.

Below are some of the main elements and keyword reminders of the topics covered in this excellent event, with the contact details of the people who made this event possible, either by presenting or ensuring it's effective organisation.

Check them out - and if you like what you see, connect!



Facebook (personal):


  • Profile
  • Updates
  • Groups
  • Discussions
  • Questions

Google+ using a tablet (in beta, currently by invitation only)

  • Profile
  • Circles
  • Huddles
  • Stream
  • Photos
  • Blogs

Presenters & helpers

Richard Wishart 

Desiree Ashton

Ann Hawkins

Ruth Ekblom 

Stuart Wishart

Chris Thomas