Monday 13 November 2017

An HBN 'Out and About' to Webtec, St Ives

HBN does a series of interesting visits to local companies in Huntingdonshire (our 'Out and About'), so it was with some curiosity that I took a lift with Nick Smith of EAM Consulting to this month's visit, mulling over the company name. I knew it was likely to be manufacturing, but obviously, judging by the name, internet related.

I couldn't have been more wrong! As Managing Director Martin Cuthbert soon explained after welcoming the select group of visitors, Webtec's name came from pre-web days, Web was an abbreviated version of Webster. The tec was, and still is, technology, specifically monitoring equipment for hydraulic systems.

Oversimplified, hydraulics is the use of liquids in pipes. Because liquids are by and large very difficult to compress, if you push plunger in at one end of a pipe, the pressure and movement will be transferred to the other end. As Martin wryly commented, whenever he travels down the building site that is the A14, he cannot help but notice the hydraulics in use in diggers, lifters, drilling rigs and a myriad of other machinery. Hydraulics also allow you to transfer energy at very high pressures, which can be used to drive specialised turbines or exert great force.

Working with hydraulic systems means that things can occasionally leak or systems go wrong. Webtec helps in providing measuring equipment that can help detect either the optimum performance of a machine or the first signs that a service might be in order. The company uses state of the art computerised machinery to make components from blocks of aerospace grade aluminium and steel. We could see how a component gradually developed from a simple block of metal to a high precision milled unit.

We learnt a very useful tip when checking for leaks in hydraulic systems, don't try to find the leaks with your hand. The liquid can be ejected at such high pressure from a pin-prick hole, that it is injected under your skin. This has to be treated quickly as it can cause you further damage and poisoning.

Webtec's products are exported globally, mirroring the UK in that 50 percent of exports go to the EU. Which naturally raised the question of Brexit. As with many other companies international exporters, the key frustration was the current uncertainty. This was coupled with pragmatically putting contingencies in place, to allow border free trading, a rapid response and the good customer relationships that clients will still be expecting within the EU.

The other fascinating story was the transition from an autocratic family-head led firm to a modern business. Martin is one of the two brothers who took over the company from their father, who had bought it from the American firm he was originally working for. Together, the brothers instigated a program of change, with devolved and shared responsibilities amongst the workforce.

One of the biggest problems for engineering firms is getting youngsters to join the business. Webtec has proactively built up a relationship with the regional colleges. Staff are challenged by going out to get involved in STEM activities.  They often get insights from the way the students bring new and unexpected solutions to the challenges they are given. The company in turn offers apprenticeships which look to find the best and maintain the continuing growth and development of the business.

I particularly liked the fact that Webtecc viewed the unusual requests or problems in hydraulics as challenges - ones that opened up new and unforeseen opportunities. When asked how Webtec survived in a competitive world, where big players had hoovered up a lot of the smaller companies, Martin's response was: flexibility, a genuine interest in your customer's issues and helping them find the best solution.

A good HBN 'Out and About'.

Friday 1 September 2017

The CETC Annual Garden Party

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner Keynote Speaker at CETC Garden Party
The torrential rain cleared and a rainbow heralded the CETC (Cambridge Enterprise and Technology Club) Annual Garden Party. Around fifty members and guests wound their way through Wolfson College to reach its Lee Hall. Armed with drinks we chatted in groups and admired the  Betty Wu Lee Garden through the opened veranda doors.

CETC Chair, Dr Andrea Lorenz, wearing a shimmering red chinese jacket patterned with golden dragons, gave a welcome speech. Peppered with witty comments and reminiscences, she spoke of the past year's successful meetings and the ambitious 2017/18 program. Above all, she thanked the attending visitors and guests and invited them to take part in a competition to suggest future speakers and topics. The winner would win a flight over London in a four-seater plane - or the equivalent for those of a more nervous disposition.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, was our invited keynote speaker and he reflected on the vibrancy of business, science and technology interacting and collaborating in Cambridge, due in no small part to networking and events such as the CETC talks.

The food and the venue were excellent and the place was still buzzing with conversation at its close.

Friday 14 July 2017

Evelyn Glennie, Musician and Businesswoman hosts HBN's Out and About

HBN had a fascinating visit to see Dame Evelyn Glennie, renowned solo percussionist - and discovered that there was also a surprising amount of business acumen needed to be an independent artist in the modern world.

Having literally created the concept of a solo percussionist, Evelyn found herself increasingly in demand and rushing around the globe at the behest of agents and events. In one of the few breaks in a hectic schedule, the moment of enlightenment came on a simple post-it note on the wall at a meeting with her small dedicated team. It simply asked, "Who owns your business?" 

It was time to answer "Evelyn Glennie".

Stopping to think about where you wanted to be, what you wanted to achieve and how to get there was that key stage at which so many of us small businesses fail. Even artists have to deal with the practical realities of when to get paid, logistics of moving material and products around, and most of all, business development.

Used to having shattered preconceptions of what a percussionist does, Evelyn and her team began to change the rules in how an artist finds work and gets paid for it. Rather than relying simply on agents, Evelyn increasingly used social media to reach out both to the audience, the venues and promotors who organised events. Facebook and particularly Twitter overtook paper advertising - and also reached out to new audiences. 

Taking control of her own business also meant being open to new opportunities and collaborations - with dance groups, scientists and of course other musicians. There was also space to engage in more socially minded activities. And of course there are the masterclasses, speaking engagements etc.

A lovely vignette was the story of The Letter. It had been a busy tour and Evelyn returned tired and expecting  the usual mass of accumulated letters. Her desk, however, was empty, bar a tray with a solitary letter and a cup of tea. Oh my, what could this portend? Bad news perhaps? It was the letter from the Palace notifying Evelyn that she had been chosen to be Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2007 New Year Honours. And this year, she was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2017 New Year Honours.

When the tables were turned and we recounted our varied business interests, Evelyn was not only genuinely interested but saw connections and links either to her experience or possible useful connections.

It was a relaxed, personable meeting as conversation and questions bounced across the room, intermingled with laughter. Unpretentious, unselfconscious, Evelyn Glennie was a gracious host and we all left grateful for an informative, educational and entertaining couple of hours in conversation shared with other local small businesses.

And a special thanks for being game for our group photo with the newest, if apparently reluctant, human percussion instrument!

Matthew Bailey introduces "Smart Cities” to Cambridge

Matthew Bailey, Internet of Things Pioneer, confidently overcame the technological challenges both large and small, in his talk on Smart Cities at the Allia Future Business Centre on Wednesday 12 July. I'd hummed and hawed about going as work was piling on, but was glad I did. I came back with three clear messages from his talk:

1. Need to return data ownership to the individual
2. Sharing local data intelligently in Smart Cities
3. Connecting Smart Cities.

But what is a Smart City? They are "cities that have deployed—or are currently piloting—the integration of information, communications and technology (ICT) solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city", according to Lisa Arrowsmith, associate director for connectivity, smart homes and smart cities at IHS. These areas include mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance, and safety and security.

For anyone familiar with the UK's construction and housing sector and Government structures, this does sound like a pipedream, where new communities can be built without even giving thought to the basic provision of decent high speed internet coverage as integration is certainly absent between providers of housing, services and transport.

To achieve anything, you do actually need to have a more local influence to initiate bringing disparate sectors together to create that greater whole that might even have a glimmer of a hope of becoming a 'Smart City". Matthew gave us some excellent examples from the US such as Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado. The key factor in success here was convincing Mayors and  other politicians that you could solve city logistical problems AND win votes at the same time with an integrated Smart City approach.

Within Cambridgeshire, this should certainly be on the radar of the newly elected Super-Mayor for our region.

The added advantage to relevance of developing more local strategies, is escaping the clutches of either monolithic, labyrinthine national or federal bureaucracy or the stranglehold of large international commercial service providers who can exert a stranglehold on development. A prime example given was a certain power supply company that could dictate a city's policies, right down to street lighting in the US.

Initiatives for Smart Cities are seeding globally and, because they see the advantages of integrating big data on their communities and services to ensure a more effective city growth and development, they are also beginning to talk to each other and share experiences, good and bad.

The thing that struck me as I was thinking about the democratisation of information gathering and decision sharing, was that this also requires smart opinion collecting. Matthew had been approaching the strategy from the top down - Mayors and other politicians, then down to interested focus groups and possibly looking at local feedback from individuals. Rightly so when you consider the power and money flow.

Now, many communities are already building their communication networks, newsletters, blogs and discussion forums very locally. These might be dealing with micro-issues in the wider context of things. However, if one could crowdsource this information or even integrate these micro decisions/opinions, you would have a bottom up source of local information on needs and desires that could really make Smart Cities the integrated 'Rainforest' of interconnected and yet balanced city ecologies.

As ever, there was a note of caution that tied the blue sky thinking solidly back to the ground. To be able to intelligently share data, you need robust systems that will not fail at the critical moments. Rather than spoken, the point was driven home by the technical issues of trying to connect a laptop to the presentation screen. Something that functioned perfectly before the talk and then failed just before the presentation, was restored and then failed again at as Matthew was approaching the denouement of his exposition.

Smart Cities are in their infancy but will be powerhouses of the future. Matthew has written on open White Paper on the four stages to develop one in your city. you can access it here

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Shining Star Gloria Loring - Una Estrella Brillante

Sculptress, artist, writer. Fearless in the face of technology. these are just some of the things I've learnt about Gloria Loring in our collaboration over the past few years. It all began with her first mystical children's book, Shiny Star Leonora which is now available in Spanish for her friends, family and wider audience in Spain as La Estrella Brillante Leonora ( It is actually her fourth book, part of a series. Not content to rest on her laurels, we are currently working on realising her fifth, and a sixth is flowing from her pen and paintbrush.

The Spanish edition brought us back to re-membering and re-discovering the beautiful paintings that illustrated Shiny Star Leonora. When we first broached the subject of illustrations for her book, Gloria blithely said that she would paint them, what did we need? I was not prepared for photographs of the partially impasto acrylic paintings that evoked the worlds she was describing in her words.

Gloria has created an evolving series in which Star spirits look down from the heavens with innocence and longing to the beautiful garden that is our world. Visiting our world they learn more about what is important for them to develop emotionally and spiritually by experiencing life as living beings, from butterflies, birds to peacocks and dogs. Their lives might be short or long. Death is simply a metamorphic stage through which they regain their spirit existences, a little wiser, yet yearning to return and live amongst us again.

Gloria describes herself "Now, in my silver years, I can enjoy life to the full and follow inspiration when it comes!" I think she is the embodiment of her work - Shining Star Gloria - Una Estrella Brillante.

You can find out more at
Gloria Loring, Author

Thursday 25 May 2017

Getting a book you have produced published

My own Kindle ebook
I received a letter from an author who had produced a poetry book and had it printed themselves. They asked how they could get it published. 

Here's my response, at the time of publishing on this blog

It is relevant for the UK and most types of book, but readers elsewhere might find it useful too:

Dear C,

Apologies for not getting back to you sooner about your poetry book!

You have a completed formatted book, which you have effectively printed and published yourself. Congratulations!

If you wanted it to be registered as a book listed on book catalogues and also be archived with the copyright libraries, you would need to reprint it with its own ISBN and register it as the author/publisher with the UK copyright agency, Nielsen.

The issue with any book is not so much its registration, it is getting it sold. This either means marketing it yourself or finding a publishing house that will do the selling and marketing for you.

I think you have six options:

  1. Register with Nielsen yourself as a publisher and buy a single ISBN. Get the book reprinted with the barcode. Promote it yourself. You fulfil your ISBN responsibilities
  2. You pay us to register the book with an ISBN number, for you to market yourself. We become your publisher. You retain copyright (see below) Cost £xxx
    1. We provide you with the information to go on an imprint page in the book or the inside of the front cover. (This will include a copyright phrase stating that you have copyright)
    2. We provide you with a barcode with one of our allocated ISBNs to go on the back cover (this makes us your publisher)
    3. You include these items in a new reprint you arrange with your printer
    4. We can recommend other printers
    5. You set the price (I recommend a RRP of 4 x the print cost per book. This accounts for the print cost and you can give bookshops or resellers a discount, yet still earn on book sales)
    6. You send us a good quality photo of the cover
    7. We register the book title with the ISBN
    8. We receive 8 free archival copies
      1. We send one copy to the British library (legal requirement)
      2. We send 5 copies to the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries (they are legally entitled to ask for them within a year, we now send them as a matter of course)
      3. We retain 2 archival copies for Milton Contact Ltd.
    9. We pass on any book orders to you by email that come through Nielsen (You fulfil orders)
    10. We also prepare a page on our website for your book with a link back to you, so people can buy from you direct. (You fulfil orders)
    11. You can talk with us about advice on further ways to promote your book
  3. Physical book on Amazon. You can be a seller on Amazon for your book, but it does need to have an ISBN.
    1. They deduct a nominal charge for each sale
    2. They do factor in postage costs.
  4. Physical book published via Amazon/CreateSpace/Lulu.
    1. You can do print on demand
    2. They become the publishers and assign an ISBN
    3. Check out their requirements (format for submissions/book sizes)
    4. Check out the charges they have for producing your book
    5. Check the charges they have for printing and  mailing the book to buyers
    6. Check out how much you actually earn per copy in %. 
  5. eBook on Amazon: You register with Amazon as an author and upload your book as a kindle edition in your name.
    1. You do this yourself
    2. You do not need an ISBN
    3. We can help you do this, We can do this with or without an ISBN. Cost £xxx
  6. You find a publisher that will produce and market the book for you.
    1. You have to approach large publishers through an Agent
    2. You can find Literary Agents online or in the Writers & Artists Yearbook 2017, the library should have a copy
    3. If your book is accepted, you receive royalties. And possibly an advance fee.
    4. You may be expected to help run promotional events for the book

I hope that this helps!

Best wishes,


Dr Chris Thomas,
Publisher, Milton Contact Ltd

This information is provided to the best of my knowledge - please do check things out yourself for services other than those with Milton Contact Ltd

Sunday 21 May 2017

Don't Push Me! Flesh fly chases off greenbottles

Flesh fly chasing off greenbottles

Today I saw a large chequered flesh fly (Sarcophaga spp. on a dead chick being irritated by, and chasing off the more numerous greenbottles (Lucilia caesar) that were also trying to get to the feast. The video above shows the live action over a continuous recording stretch of 2 minutes or so with several battles being fought. The video below shows the actual fight clips at 1/10th speed (slow motion).

The attacks by the flesh fly were quite selective, with some greenbottles being attacked whilst others were not. The main response was to a greenbottle moving along, which would first attract the flesh fly's attention and with further movement, stimulate an attack,

The attacks appeared to be pushing off the greenbottle into the grass, where the victim froze and the flesh fly returned to its feeding patch. I'm not sure, but it looks as if in one or two clips the greenbottles were in turn buzzing the flesh fly.

However other greenbottles appeared to be able to feed quite close to the flesh fly without arising its ire.

The behaviour would suggest that this is a male flesh fly, as these are known to display territorial behaviour towards other male flesh flies and other species of fly. See, and source reference Paquette et al., 2008

Thursday 18 May 2017

One Legged Ducks DON'T Swim in Circles

Today, Wales mourns the passing of Rhodri Morgan, who was the first First Minister of Wales ( Rhodri was famed for some of his more colourful descriptions, including the rhetorical "Do one-legged ducks swim in a circle?" in a Jeremy Paxman interview (

As author Brenda-Gillian enthused in a discussion yesterday, the English language is a delightful thing and the saying 'Do one legged ducks swim in a circle' is a colloquialism that has long been used as a positive response to a question with an obvious answer.

As a biologist, I was intrigued. Was this actually true? Fortunately not! The best evidence I can find of one legged ducks swimming with perfect ease in the directions they want can be seen in just three videos of no doubt many more - see below:

The last link shows a model that demonstrates how it is possible for a duck to swim with one leg.

Thinking about it, this is of course obvious. A one legged duck that can't swim in water is, well, a sitting duck, to coin another phrase, and liable to swift natural selection. The human Paralympics show that we too can adapt and perform very well despite the absence of a limb.

So, should we look for more accurate alternatives? Is the pope catholic?!?

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Skeleton investigated in Brampton

Bone under the microscope using polarised light. photo chris thomas
David responded with professional aplomb after seeing my primary reason for a first consultation in the New Heights Wellness Family Chiropractic Centre.

"And what reasons other than Curiosity might you have for seeing a chiropractor?"

Well, my curiosity had been aroused by our HBN Out and About visit to the practice last week. It was a fantastic location and airy building for the practice and we had an open, welcoming and informative talk and tour by two professionals, owners and Doctors David Coombs and Lianna Saltys. It was this that led me to take up their offer of an initial consultation for a variety of other reasons.

Ever since early humans came out of the trees and adapted from walking on four limbs to bipedalism, the human skeleton has had to adapt dramatically. Initially a body slung under a suspension bridge of a spine supported by four pillars/legs, the whole emphasis changed to maintaining a centre of gravity in a straight line through the body from the top of the skull down to the hips or feet. The last sentences on Wikipedia dryly summarise the current status of human bipedal evolution:

"Even with much modification, some features of the human skeleton remain poorly adapted to bipedalism, leading to negative implications prevalent in humans today. The lower back and knee joints are plagued by osteological malfunction, lower back pain being a leading cause of lost working days, because the joints support more weight. Arthritis has been a problem since hominids became bipedal: scientists have discovered its traces in the vertebrae of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. Physical constraints have made it difficult to modify the joints for further stability while maintaining efficiency of locomotion."

One can therefore imagine that some of the very first common phrases used by early humans after a hard day's work gathering or hunting food was "Ooh! My back hurts". Shoulder and neck ache were probably second on the list as the human brain and skull grew to their current enormous size over the last half a million years. (Unless of course, you were a woman giving birth, where there was an even more painful consequence).

Therefore, when I answered David's question, being male, the first and second options were obviously affecting me in my approaching dotage, as well as chronic migraine for the past 45 years that had defeated all previous attempts to prevent it.

What followed was an hours intensive investigation. starting with questions relating to lifestyle and general health. It continued with looking at posture, balance and muscle strength as well as reflexes in places I hadn't been previously aware I had them. The session finished with a series of X-rays of pelvic, spine and neck areas. Always curious, I'd checked online, before the session, about potential radiation dosages and found that this was probably equivalent to several weeks of natural background radiation in the UK, or a week's holiday in Cornwall, so was comfortable with that.

Chiropractic has received a mixed response, with a very critical opinion from parts of the mainstream medical profession. However, it is accepted in the UK as a treatment option, certainly for back and neck pain, with positive results. It is one of the only two alternative medical practices that comes under statutory regulation in the UK (osteopathy is the other), and practitioners have to be registered with the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), which has a code of practice that requires them to:

  • respect patients' dignity, individuality and privacy
  • respect patients' rights to be involved in decisions about their treatment and healthcare
  • justify public trust and confidence by being honest and trustworthy
  • provide a good standard of practice and care
  • protect patients and colleagues from risk of harm
  • cooperate with colleagues from their own and other professions

More information regulation and safety can be found here:

I left David and Lianna's practice feeling that I had been in the hands of a professional interested in my health and care. I look forward with interest to see what the report will raise in the coming weeks when I return for the results!

Monday 8 May 2017

Alfie Bear Goes to Work

What do you do when you become a Big Boy at 4 years old? Alfie Bear wanted to become a farmer! Our very own 'Crazy Grandma' Brenda-Gillian, author of 'Maiseerola and The Purple Sweets' has teamed up again with another of her grandchildren, Alfie Bear himself, to produce her second richly illustrated book for parents, grandparents and carers of all young children to read out aloud - 'Alfie Bear Goes to Work'.

It turns out that helping on the farm can be jolly hard work, with the farmer setting 10 tasks for Alfie to do; from ploughing the field, battling with recalcitrant goats, making friends with Mr James the very helpful sheepdog, and meeting some of the other farmyard animals too. Alfie's Blue Rabbit is his faithful companion throughout.

This time, both Brenda and Alfie collaborated on the colourful, full-page paintings which accompany the text. They bring the story to life and include many elements within them that allow the reader and the listener to interact as they explore. Colours and names also abound and are highlighted in different font and colours, meaning that someone just learning to read can discover particular words and perhaps interact with the book as the story progresses.

This is definitely an enjoyable book to read and reread with a child, and we at Milton Contact Ltd are proud to have been part of it!

You can find out how to order the book here

Sunday 7 May 2017

Photographing impasto and textured paintings

Chris's Reflection examples: Left- highly textured paint and Right canvas thinly painted, giving unwanted reflections
I was delighted to receive a complimentary email by artist and photographer Matthew Lee (see his beautiful landscape paintings here, commenting on my Kindle book 'Photographing your own artwork', a simple guide for artists on how to photograph 2D, 3D and reflective art, without much photographic experience. 

Matthew then went on to tell me of his frustration of photographing textured paintings, such as impasto oil or acrylic artwork. This rang a bell with me as I'd just done some museum records where I had the same problem. The picture above shows two examples in limited areas of two paintings. I'm fully in agreement with him that often the best option is to photograph in diffuse bright shade. You get an even illumination of of your picture without directional light highlighting certain strokes. If the painting is small, you could even try a light tent. But sometimes you cannot practically do this, or it still doesn't work to bring out the best in your picture. In this case. the general recommendation is to use linear polarised filters on the lights and a circular polarising filter on the camera. 

An aside on the circular polarising filters used for cameras. They are actually linear polarising filters on the front (the filter face closest to the subject) with a circular polarising filter or waveplate on the back (the camera facing side). This construction is essential for the camera to be able to autofocus and judge exposures. For the photography itself, they act as linear polarising filters. There is a great explanation by Bob Atkins here:

Basically, linear polarisation filters are placed over the lights, such that only polarised light is passed through, that is in the same plane as the picture. When the circular polarisation filter on the camera is rotated, a point will be reached where any reflected light/glare is extinguished and the picture becomes much clearer. A full explanation is given in the Cultural Heritage Science Open Source article here:

Note: If you are going to use polarisation filter, you also need to recalibrate your white balance for the new conditions (filters on lamps and camera).

However, as Matthew commented to me, this can actually result in your image looking more contrasted (ie punchier) that the real life original, presumably because you also remove the faint reflections on the rest of the painting! 

The image can also lose its impact and appear flat, precisely because you have reduced those reflections that give it it's dimensionality and depth. You can address this by slightly adjusting the rotation of the filter on the camera, such that you get just a bit of light from the reflective surfaces come through - something I do occasionally when using polarised light and photographing through the microscope.

It is at this point that we have hit the usual problems that we photographers experience with any photography and reproduction, :
  • What you see is different to what the camera sees/records.
  • What is displayed on your screen is dependent on your device and will be different to what the camera records.
  • What you have printed will differ from what is displayed on your screen.
You can try to minimise these issues by:
  • Including a standard colour scale or similar with the painting when you photograph it.
  • Calibrating monitors and printers (or having detailed conversations with your professional printer with the original present).
  • Gentle editing in photo software to at least try and match the digital or printed copy with the original as best possible.
But ultimately, it comes down to your judgement on how close your edited digital or printed copy looks like the original! I think that if you look at Matthew's pictures, he's done a pretty good job!

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Cambs Mayor candidates talk business to HBN and online audience

Peter Dawe and Rod Cantrill talk business and ambitions for Cambridgeshire Mayor post to HBN and an online audience.

Video and podcast recording of Friday's HBN Mayoral Hustings in Alconbury Weald.

All seven candidates had been invited. Three agreed to come, Kevin Price (Labour), Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrats) and Peter Dawe (Independent). On the day, only Peter and Rod appeared. Both actually had real business experience in the past.

Richard Wishart conducted the live broadcast from his phone on Twitter. I also used my H1 microphone to record a separate audio track for a podcast.

Video broadcast:
Actual event starts at about 3 mins 30 seconds into recording.

Podcast (better audio):

Event held by the Huntingdonshire Business Network on Friday 28th April at Alconbury Weald with an audience of 15 local businesses in the room and 90+ viewers on a live Twitter video broadcast.

Timed notes of Questions and responses in Podcast (add about 3 minutes 30 seconds for corresponding video timings)

  • 25s Richard Wishart introduces live streaming 
  • 1m 45s Dr Chris Thomas, Chair -  Introduction 
  • 2m 40s Audience introduce themselves 
  • 5m 15s Chris Introduces speakers 
  • 5m 40s Rod Cantrill (Liberal Democrat) introduces himself. Concerns about transport and affordable housing. Worry about Brexit; Experience and ambitions as Mayor. 
  • 11m 0s Peter Dawe (Independent) introduces himself as an entrepreneur. Lists achievements in Business, Social Enterprise activity, County Council and EEDA. Application to being mayor. 
  • 16m 40s first question: What two things would you do to make things happy in Cambridgeshire. Peter Dawe – reducing misery (housing, commuting). Rod Cantrill – making sustainable caring communities. 
  • 19m 45s second question. What sort of powers will mayor actually have? Peter Dawe – Councillors regaining role as leaders of communities rather than blocking them. Finding resources within the community, Mini-mayors. Rod Cantrill – devolution should empower people. Complexity levels of councils, LEP etc. Therefore rationalise layers to Unitary Authority, plus Combined Authority Plus Mayor. Components of influence – financial £170m to encourage right decisions with local development; as an influencer/voice. Peter Dawe – focussed on more current situations. 
  • 26m 0s Business related, What are you doing for local businesses – ambition to get 100,000 businesses in region, currently have 79,000. 
  • 28m 0s Restatement of question – What are your visions for attracting small businesses and more businesses.  Rod Cantrill, creating opportunities for jobs in this region. E.g. small industrial units as set up around Cambridge. Broadband is an issue that needs to be expanded. Ensuring that employees have the right skills. Peter Dawe – We do not have a job shortage, we have an employee shortage. Why attract more people to use up resources? Need proper balanced planning re housing etc for new influx. Recommendation to government, stop trying to help small businesses, you don’t know what you are doing. Also stop supporting big businesses as they come in and trump the small businesses. Can increase value of jobs – e.g. very good ambition for Fenland.  
  • 32m 35s Rod Cantrill. Continued issue in Fenland re number of jobs and re quality of jobs £10,000 lower than Cambridge. Mayor has to influence at many levels. 
  • 33m 40s Response from LEP Fiona McGonigle – Education in region getting worse. Biggest issue skills, need to  make sectors interesting for students to go into. What would you do to address issues.  Rod Cantrill – Issue of work related colleges being concentrated in certain sites, yet buses not available or support withdrawn –so students in outlying villages having to make life choices on this issue. Peter Dawe – technology can provide solutions. Do not need to just concentrate on one site –could follow Open University model with local tutors, learning on the job and delivering education through internet. Fiona – challenges in that this requires a lot of self motivation, most of education system does not result in Students self motivated enough for this solution. Peter Dawe emphasises need to embrace new change. 
  • 38m 40s Chair - But we need good internet access – audience poll who suffers from internet connection problems, most of audience. Richard Wishart – about BT’s test of 1Gb connection trialed and then withdrawn in Huntingdonshire. Rod Cantrill – reiterates that personal contact still important and comes back to lack of infrastructure and decent bus connections and bus fares for the young and the elderly.  
  • 41m 55s –Audience comment about retirees – having bus passes that they hardly use but could pass on. Living in village and wanting to downsize but cannot because moving from large house to village to small house in town impossible due to costs. 
  • 43m 00 Audience comment on houses being built which people can move into and live in, freeing up  housing stock for small families. Response Peter Dawe, currently have a total broken market, though bad planning – example Alconbury Weald – very car based. What people want is a dense service rich environment. Instead we build garden cities without a centre or with facilities remote from living areas. Construction is pandering to village councillors. Under his mayorship he will redress. 
  • 46m 40s – Question – Majority of businesses (more than 90% ) are sole traders or micro-businesses – how are you going to help them? Rod Cantrill – building stable sustainable communities – create market for your services. Peter Dawe – Councils say no to new ideas and businesses. Gives 2 examples. Need councils to be proactive with business development 
  • 50m 45s Audience Question – what powers does Mayor over council and housing projects? Rod Cantrill – Finance given to Mayor – to exert persuasion to councils. Mayor can set up development corporation. Ex Mayor of London took control of Olympic Park. Associated problems – bringing public along. 
  • 52m 35 – Another audience not connect or alienated is microbusinesses – Local business support has disappeared – questions audience where is your work – most of businesses work in the wider region and nationally and internationally. Rod Cantrill understands but also notes that there are many local businesses and shops. Again emphasises building and being part of a local community.  
  • 54m 34s Do mayors  have influence on business rates or businesses coming into a region? Peter Dawe says no, city centres turning into leisure destinations, not shopping destinations. People buy on brand and that this will challenge small businesses – this is beyond reach of mayor. Rod Cantrill –it is critical that we DO have small independent retailers, effect of local communities. Back to ability to localise business rates. Consultation has been set back due to General election. Raises issue of social care – the reduction of the Block grant to local authorties from £84n to zero. 
  • 58m 0s – Companies and organisations in Alconbury and wider region not advertising and employing small and micro businesses. Peter Dawe, the fact that the small businesses exist suggests that they are getting business. Mayor will support using local resources and capacity. Gives bad examples of past actions.  
  • 1h 00m 5s Question about future of Fenland. Rod Cantrill returns to previous question – again would support smart finding of building and other businesses locally. 
  • 1h 1m 55s Invitation to 2 candidates to give their conclusions in 1 m  Peter Dawe – the failure and lack of respect for local government. He believes root and branch reform needed. Through leadership he can make local government work for the region. Rod Cantrill – role of the mayor needs to be voice for everyone in the Region. Returns to comment on Fenland – progress there in the Mayors term will be a measure of achievement. 
  • 1h 4m 20s Concluding remarks and thanks by chair and audience. 
  • 1h 5m 30s close of formal business 
  • 1h 5m 55s – some important last questions

Mammoth Tusk at the Porch Museum and video interviews

Archive picture of mother and mammoth
Jane and I visited the Porch Museum in Godmanchester yesterday to see a beautiful young juvenile Woolly mammoth tusk. Curator Kate Hadley of the Porch museum had alerted me to the fact that the lucky finder was bringing it along again with her proud children. The Norris Museum was visiting the Porch museum with many displays and activities for the day, so it was a lively event.

I'd seen this tusk over a year ago and so it was great to be able to get a second chance to look at this beautiful tusk, kept by the finder family. The tusk is about 60 cm long and has an intact root, which is the quarter or more of the tusk within the jaw of the animal and the end at which growth occurs. With mammoths, growth of the tusk was between 2.5 cm to 17 cm per year, suggesting that the tusk from this individual was about 4 years old. Looking along the curve, you could see the gentle tendency to spiral so typical for Mammoths. Examining the layers of dentine at the root end, some were thick enough to see the criss-crossing pattern in cross-section, called 'engine turning'. In this tusk, the pattern had the more acute angle typical of mammoth ivory, compared to elephant ivory, as I was able to demonstrate to the Mayor of Godmanchester. This being the second time we had met within a week as he also stopped to chat with us at the HBN stand at the Wood Green business fair last Wednesday.

I filmed an impromptu interview of Hannah from the Norris and also videod curator Kate plus two volunteers from the Porch Museum. The edited recordings can be found in the on YouTube in my new playlist, Museum Talks

Alternatively, here are the individual links:

Hannah & the Norris Museum:

Kate Hadley and volunteers at the Porch Museum

Apologies for the background noise - people were having fun, and we would rather have it like this in our museums.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Photographing a Toastmasters' Competition


A member and photographer's view on photography and photographing a Toastmasters Competition. I present a (hopefully humorous) perspective on competitions from a photographers view and follow with solutions and actions to help other members who are entrusted with the photography at their events. The article includes a note on permissions and rights.


Photography at events is a bit like giving birth (so I hear, and obviously nowhere near as painful and without the longer term commitments). You swear you'll never go through with it again but for some reason, amnesia sets in, and when you are asked to photograph at another event, you blithely accept, having forgotten your past resolution.

Darren, fellow Toastmaster from the Huntingdonshire speakers, and one of this years regional competition organisers, had actually found a cunning solution as a past photographer - he asked me if I would care to step in for today's event in Wyboston Lakes, as he had his hands full. The venue was located in the Training centre, set in the beautiful grounds of the complex. Great conference facilities (and outstanding kitchen). As a Toastmaster myself, I was looking forward to the competition too.

Now, with the event still fresh in my mind, I thought that before the amnesia sets in again, I'll give you a rundown of what to look out for if you are entering such an innocuous space and event as being the photographer for your Toastmasters' competition.

I'll tell you a bit about the challenges and then give you some solutions.

The challenges of photographing a Toastmasters' Event

You have been asked to photograph the event. You agree. On the day you arrive at the venue a bit early with your camera. Great! The event organisers can tick off a box, give you a program and send you to the room where the event will be taking place

Room lighting

The Theory

Cameras need good light. In an ideal world, your event will take place in a large venue, with a high roof, with lots of lighting that can be dimmed, a stage that is covered by a series of wide spots and lights that illuminate the speakers well from the front and all sides. Imagine a television studio for a live sitcom or a larger theatre or town's entertainment venue. Yes, this dream can be realised when you are at the top end of the competition scene - but then the organisers would hire a professional photographer as part of the overall budget and you could simply enjoy the show!

The Reality

The event is a conference facility, often part of a training centre or hotel, or a lecture theatre. The room will be large enough for the event and one wall is dedicated to the speakers and a projector screen.

The first thing to check on entry into the room is the artificial lighting. Like many facilities, it is most likely to have "even illumination" of the whole room using fluorescent strip lighting behind decorative panels across the whole ceiling, parallel to the speaker's end. To the human eye it looks well lit. But watch a person's face whilst they cross a room from the photographer's perspective. It goes like this: backlit in shadow, faintly lit, demon face, backlit in shadow, faintly lit, demon face. Demon face being the effect you get when holding a light directly under your chin, or in this case, directly overhead.

What's more, during a presentation, the lights over the audience may be dimmed, with the speaker lit from above from one row of lights. If the presentation uses an overhead projector, the speaker will be in the dark too.

Then there is the fact that fluorescent lights can flicker at 1/50th or 1/60th of a second. So if you use a shutter speed faster than 100th of a second with fluorescent lights, you get pictures that are alternately light and dark.

The Speakers

At non-toastmaster events, the average speaker is usually petrified of the audience, seeks the security of a lectern, and is therefore static. If you are lucky, the venue might even have a spotlight on the lectern. Photographically this is an ideal solution. Use a tripod, aim and fire.

Sadly, Toastmasters and other competent speakers are not so accommodating. There is the probability of body language with exuberant and unexpected gestures. The speaker is likely to roam up and down the presenting area and even forwards and backwards relative to the audience (backlit in shadow, faintly lit, demon face, backlit in shadow, faintly lit, demon face). They will turn their heads from side to side to maintain eye contact with the audience, and even contort their features to reflect mood, in addition to unexpected expressions when photographing someone speaking. In short, they are unpredictable and a photographic liability. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable aspect of photographing a Toastmasters' event.

The Audience

The audience is passively looking at the speaker as they listen. The speaker is fine as they have eye contact. The audience is fine, because they are actively listening. You are not fine. Your photographs of a passive audience not looking directly at the camera looks like a sea of total boredom. Fortunately there is a solution, given further below.

The Awards

Competitions inevitably have awards. The participants, the runners up and the winner will be called up to roaring applause from an enthusiastic Toastmasters audience. They will shake hands with the presenter and stop and pose with their certificates and prizes to be photographed! That is the theory, anyway. 

The reality is that these are emotionally charged moments, as I have experienced myself. You get so taken up with the surprise, relief and joy of having been called up, that it all happens as if in a dream. You go up, shake hands and accept the certificate, show it modestly/triumphantly/ecstatically (please delete according to your personality) and leave the stage in a delirium of happiness - before the photographer has been able to get that great photo of you. 

Furthermore, as a photographer, you suddenly find that the backdrop to the presentations is distracting - perhaps it is an emergency exit sign, or the overhead projector is still displaying the last presentation's slide on a white background behind the presentation so everyone is silhouetted or has an image of text projected over them. With yesterday's event, it was the ultramodern lectern, supported on a metallic spiral and illuminated red from within (red immediately draws the eye away from other objects in a photo).

The Anticlimax - Processing the pictures

The event was a success, the organisers breathe a sigh of relief and everyone goes back home to reminisce on a great event and relax before having to think of the next one. 

Except for the photographer. You have to download all the images, check that at least a reasonable proportion were OK, edit them, and then make them available - ASAP, before the memory of the event passes.


Before the Event

Be part of the event organisation

  • Ideally, the photography should be part of the event planning team right from the start
  • If this is not possible:
    • Get more feedback from the event organisers on:
      • The location and 
      • What they are looking for re photography BEFORE the event. 
  • Make the organisers aware that they need to let people know:
    • That photos will be taken
    • Establish the ground rules of what and who can be photographed and what not (see later in document about rights)
    • Get a program for the day
  • Check out the venue in advance, so you are aware of its pros and cons for photography


You will need:
  •  A good camera that:
    • Will take pictures at high resolution (suggested minimum 3000 pixels by 2000 pixels or 6 Megapixels)
    • Can work in low light, with noise reduction
    • Has a good autofocus.
  • Lenses or capabilities for normal and telephoto photography.
  • Fill in flash or bouncing flash options.
  • Spare batteries - and a charger! If using a high end smartphone, take a power source with you. 
  • A memory card that will last the event (several hundred pictures). 
  • A tripod is always useful, so take one along in case of eventualities.
  • Good photo editing software.

On the day


Arrive early and touch base with the organisers on site, to find out whether plans have changed and to obtain the final program. It is also useful to find out who is conducting the key roles of Toastmaster, Workshop Speaker etc for the different parts of the program, with a view to chatting with them.

The Venue

  • Check out the room for lighting, audience area and speaker areas.
  • Look at the backdrop behind the speaker area to find your best angle for most photos without distracting background.
  • Try to ensure you can get as much lighting as possible for photography, without affecting the proceedings too much.

Camera Settings

I personally find it much less disruptive to an event if you can take pictures without flash most of the time. I do use fill in flash for the awards. For pictures without flash:
  • Set your camera to a higher ISO, make sure high ISO noise reduction is on, if you have that option. 
  • Adjust your camera's white balance to the rooms lighting to get a good colour correction. Your camera manual should tell you how to do this.
    • If you change rooms, adjust the white balance for each room before continuing with photography
  • Your shutter speed should be the highest you can get, taking account of the lighting.
    • Take several test pictures in short succession of a random scene in the room. If the pictures differ in brightness, your shutter speed may be too fast and you are capturing the flicker of the lights. Reduce your shutter speed to 1/60th second or less.
  • My personal preference is to use the telephoto lens (70 mm - 300 mm equivalent) for informal shots of the speakers and audience, as they are less aware of the camera.
  • I use my normal lens for head and shoulder portraits and for the awards.

When you can and cannot photograph

There will be event rules about when you can photograph. For example, at the competition day I was at, photography was not permitted during the actual competitions, but was permitted at the workshops and other times.

Photographing speakers

Try taking several photographs of the speaker and see how they look on replay. Some are simply hard to capture because they are too active, both in facial expression and body movement. If you cannot do them justice in full flow, approach them later and take a head and shoulders photo or two at under good lighting. Facing a bright window but in shade works well for me as this gives even lighting that flatters the subject.

Where it looks as if you can get good photographs of the speaker in flow try the following:
  • In mid speech - this can give expressive pictures of face and body language.
  • In speech pauses - the speaker may stop and smile or have another expression held long enough to get a good sharp picture.
  • Under changing lighting. If you have a speaker under strip lights, they do give you an opportunity to get effects such as:
    • Even (but dim) illumination.
    • Strong highlights and shadows accentuating facial features.
    • Backlit highlighting of profile.
    • Silhouetting against a projected image.
  • It is better to take fewer good pictures than snap all the time.
  • Also aim to get a separate Head and shoulders picture after the talk in good lighting.

Photographing the Audience

I prefer to photograph individuals or groups of an audience using a telephoto lens, as they are less aware of you and act naturally.

As mentioned above, the standard appearance of an audience on camera is misinterpreted as boredom, because of lack of eye contact. Some actually close their eyes to concentrate of listening, which looks as if they are sleeping.

My tip is, wait for an audience reaction to the speaker and then photograph. To do this, scan the audience in the first minute or two of the talk. Select one or two subjects which you can frame well without them being aware of you. Wait till there is an audience reaction and take a picture or two. Also see if you can get a track of four or five audience members in a particular view, so you can capture a group response. You can quietly move around to a different location and repeat the process. As a photographer you are endowed with a magical ability to do this with impunity if done with respect.

Many Toastmaster speakers do workshops where the audience is asked to work in twos or threes. These are great opportunities to wander around and take casual photos.

The Awards

Photographically, the awards present you with a dilemma. You need to photograph the handovers of certificates and prizes, but these are also times when the audience will react strongly and at predictable times for photography!

If you are confident in rapidly changing your viewpoint, you could try both. I took the decision that the receipt of the awards was most important.

You are at the mercy of the person or persons giving the awards here. You can try talking to them in advance to advise/coordinate how this is best done to get a good picture. With a good compare, the process is remarkably easy (Michelle Chester, I love you!). If people are moving off too fast or there is something that does prevent these important pictures from being their best. Politely interject and ask for the change. Done with authority and respect, this is again facilitated by the magic mantle of being the photographer.

Always take several pictures - you can then use the one where no-one blinked or had a strange expression!

After the Event

  • Immediately upload your photos on return from the event and do not delete the images on the memory card. you now have a backup in case one fails.
  • Go through the photos and delete the ones that are unflattering, unsharp, or the poorer of several of the same scene or individual.
  • Crop the images to remove extraneous clutter if possible and to nicely frame the subjects.
  • Adjust contrast and colour.
  • Remove any image noise if feasible.
  • Sharpen slightly.
Most images will be used online or printed at a conventional photo size e.g. 15 cm x 10 cm (6' x 4'). An image size of 2000 pixels along the long edge is more than enough for these purposes and will save you upload time and file space.

I photograph at 6000 pixels x 4000 pixels, edit the pictures and export them at 3000 pixels by 2000 pixels. These are the pictures I upload to my Google Photo albums at the default size best for web sharing of 2000 x 1536 pixels.

Sharing the Pictures

When you are all set and dome with editing, upload your pictures at a convenient size for sharing according to the wishes of the event organiser. Sometimes, pictures are to be shared privately, through a unique link. At other times, they can be displayed publicly.

The Onus is on You: A Note on Permissions and Rights

When your club asks you as a member to be the photographer, they may not be fully aware of, or thinking about permissions and rights of the images. These rights are however important. In many cases the photography and sharing occurs without this awareness and without any problems.

However, if you have been asked to photograph at an event, you have a certain responsibility to ensure that these different rights are protected.

There are a range of rights to consider, which should have  been (but rarely are) agreed in advance. These may differ slightly from country to country.

  1. The photographer automatically has the copyright to the pictures they have taken.
  2. The event organisers have the right to limit the use of photographs taken at their event.
  3. The event venue has a right to limit the use of photographs taken at their venue.
  4. Individuals photographed singly have the right to ask for their picture not to be taken or used.
  5. Parents control the rights of their children re photography and can ask for their picture not to be taken or used.
Without making things too complicated all round, what should you do?

I recommend that you ask the event organisers in advance to:
  • Check that it is OK to take photographs at their venue for their use.
  • Check that at during registration for or at the event, it is made clear that photographs will be taken and how they will be shared. If individuals do not want to be photographed, to make themselves known to the photographer or organiser.
    • That this excludes being photographed incidentally in a group (say of the audience)
  • State how the photographs are to be used/shared after the event.
Since you are taking the pictures on behalf of the event and as a Toastmasters' member, don't be precious about your copyright. You are doing this for the team. (I believe that the Toastmasters rules expressly forbid members from financially profiting from the activity)

Whatever you do, you will ALWAYS have the right of attribution - that is, to be recognised as the photographer if you so wish, but whether you insist or not, that is your personal decision.


Being volunteered to do the photography at a Toastmasters competition is a challenging task, but ultimately rewarding! I gave some tips on difficulties you might encounter and offered solutions to help you overcome them, based on my own personal experience!

Monday 13 March 2017

An artist's guide to Photographing your own Artwork

Book Cover of Photographing your Artwork

I've prepared a simple guide for artists on how to photograph their artwork, from 2D paintings and collages, 3D pottery or sculptures or reflective objects like jewelry.

Many artists need photographs of their artwork for a range of different purposes, from creating prints to advertising to for their websites and online shops. We all seem to have cameras of some form, from those on our smartphones, via tablets, pocket and bridge cameras to expensive SLRs. But often, when you take pictures yourself, they can seem unsatisfying, or you are unsure about the best picture to take and use.

Quite often, I'm asked by others who do occasional photography for some help with their cameras and pictures. So I thought, wouldn't it be useful to summarise a lot of my basic tips and tricks for photographing artwork into a handy simple reference guide.

I'm a long-standing photographer, who learnt the craft well before the digital era, when film was still the only way to take pictures. My speciality is photographing subjects really close up, though the microscope if I can! This requires quite a detailed knowledge of how cameras work and the physics and techniques of photography, as well as how to edit the photos to get the best final picture. I also exhibit with Cambridge Open Studios, paint and draw with both conventional and computer based tools.

The experience has helped me both with photographing my own artwork and that of others. This includes photography for small museums preparing digital archives of their collections.

The Kindle book, available at, starts off with four handy one page cartoon checklists, like the one for 2D art shown on the left. In fact, you may be able to use this one here straight away!

If you are familiar with your camera and basic photography, these are handy reminders as you prepare for taking your best pictures of your artwork.

There are three photography checklists, for 2D artwork such as paintings and drawings, 3D artwork such as pottery and one for reflective pieces such as jewelry.

Once you have taken your pictures, you also need some guidance on how to edit these digitally to get the best result. This is covered  by the 4th checklist.

The bulk of the book follows the checklists and goes through them with a more detailed explanation. The phrasing and advice is aimed at you, the artist. It minimises jargon where possible and does not go off into more detail than absolutely necessary. Whilst there are so many different cameras about in our possession, from our smartphones, via tablets, pocket and bridge cameras to expensive SLRs, most of the fundamentals described in this book apply to them all.

If you want to give photographing your own artwork a go or aim to achieve even better results than you have in the past, then 'Photographing your own Artwork' by Chris Thomas is for you and available at available at for a couple of pounds/dollars/euros.

Let me know how you get on by emailing me Chris, chris(at)

Good Luck!

Monday 20 February 2017

Tips on printing your photographs as cards

I had an enquiry today about the best way to get your photos printed on cards, to give away or sell for a local church or organisation. Here's my reply:

"Thank you for your inquiry about the way to get best results when printing photos of church windows.

  • You can use any program that will allow you to design the outer spread of a card - and the inner, if you are including a greeting. 
    • Inkscape is a free software that allows you to design things with pictures, shapes and text.
  • Work in Adobe RGB colour space as this is the most commonly shared.
  • Make sure that your documents are prepared at a resolution of 300dpi (for an A6 picture on a card, that is about 1600px tall by 1300px wide.
  • If you want the picture to go right to the top, right and bottom edge of the card after folding, then make the image 2 to 3mm larger on those sides to allow for trimming
  • Save your prepared outer and inner card designs as one PDF or two separate PDFs.
  • Consider whether you want a silk or glossy outer finish to the cards.
    • Also be aware that the inner should be a surface that can be written on in pencil/pen etc.
  • Then either:
    • Check out your local printers to see if they can print cards of a suitable thickness from your PDFs.
      • If you can visit them and ask for a test print, even if it costs you a couple of pounds for one example - you want to make sure the colour reproduction is good and punchy enough.
    • Or search online for card printers. 
      • For example, Moo is good for postcards. 
      • Again, see if you can get a sample printed to check you like the reproduction.
  • Once you know how many cards you want printed and the cost, make sure that you price the cards to cover your costs and possibly earn a little to repay your time and effort.

Do send me a card when you are successful :-)

Good Luck,


Wednesday 8 February 2017

The Schwarzenegger Effect

This intriguing little graph comes from the stats page of my BrexiTrumpDiary blog. The large peak in visitors to the site corresponds to the day after I posted by diary entry for the 2nd February. The entry was titled "Strand-Beests and Schwarzenegger Trumps".

Now, doing a Google search on Strandbeest crudely gives 335,000 hits. Schwarzenegger gets 43,000,000 hits and Trump gets a whopping 1,110,000,000 hits. Since many of my BrexiTrumpDiary  blog titles include 'Trump' without eliciting this strong response, it must be an Arnie effect. No doubt it was helped by the highly amusing war of words they had with Schwarzenegger's quip about swapping jobs so that we could all sleep safely again. This brought his name into the spotlight briefly.

My BrexiTrumpDiary articles are ticking along at about 50 to 60 visits per day*. The "Strand-Beests and Schwarzenegger Trumps" article only did 30% better with about 80 visits. However, all earlier posts also received a boost, which gave an accumulated peak.

The chart also seems to suggest that the interest came in several peaks following the publishing of the article. You can see the initial daily spike like a heartbeat for other posts. The "Strandbeests and Schwarzenegger Trumps" article has several peaks. Perhaps these correspond to news broadcasts in the UK and the US at key times that talk about the Schwarzenegger-Trump spat and are followed by online searches for "Schwarzenegger".

There is however another word that can have a longer lasting effect and has resulted in the most visited post to date on the blog, "Tweets and hot chocolate", with 104 hits.  I wonder what it is?

You can find my BrexiTrumpDiary here at  and work backwards. Alternatively, the January posts are collated in the Kindle version of "BrexiTrumpDiary Jan 2017" at, a snip at 99p!

*The Miltoncontact blog has been going for a number of years now and scores higher in visits to posts overall, with a couple of hundred to 1500+ reads. It may still not seem a lot, but people who check me out before or after meetings generally find them and do comment at later meetings.

Monday 6 February 2017

Can two authors in partnership write under one pseudonym?

Today, I had an interesting book question about using a pseudonym as an author, where there are two individuals involved. Let's take a hypothetical name A. B. Cartwryte, and that this is the pseudonym for two of you, Allyson and Bernard Cartwryte.

Let's say it right from the start, many authors do write under pseudonyms.

From a publishing perspective, there is no problem with the author being A. B. Cartwryte.

Where your pseudonym will become an issue for you personally, is with:

  1. Your copyright – A. B. Cartwryte will have it. You need to make clear somewhere that this is either 
    1. both you as Allyson Cartwryte and Bernard Cartwryte jointly 
    2. OR that you, Allyson Cartwryte are writing as A. B. Cartwryte and are the sole copyright holder. 
    3. The decision is yours.
  2. Correspondence – for simplicity’s sake and to avoid confusion of the recipient, you need to use your pseudonym with readers writing to you. Make sure therefore that you have email addresses for you as Allyson Cartwryte, and possibly also Bernard Cartwryte, if you both take responsibility for the book. 
  3. Payment – people will automatically send payments to A. B. Cartwryte or want receipts/invoices in that name. you might want to let your bank know in advance that either you, Allyson or you and Bernard may receive payments in that name, so payment’s don’t bounce. If your place of residence allows, you might set up a separate account for the book. This also makes it easier for later tax purposes.

There are two great articles on the issues arising from using pseudonyms here:

Please don’t just take my word for it but check out the implications for yourself and your situation, if you are thinking of writing under a pseudonym.

Friday 13 January 2017

Victor's Story - extract from Go For It! Sixteen SME Leaders Share Their Stories

Victor’s story: From Bethnal Green to Brampton Green

Victor's story from school drop-out to a respected Independent Financial Advisor and Twitter master is one of the highlights from the Go  For It! book we published.

I grew up in the East End of London in a place called Bow.

Home was a 10 storey block of Council flats and we – that’s mum, dad and my brother, who is seven years older than me – lived on the first floor.

My aunt and grandmother lived on the fourth floor and Victoria Park was my garden. Family life was awesome and I was blessed to have loving parents.  

My father was a London taxi driver. Originally, he was an apprentice tailor, but kept stabbing himself with needles as he paid more attention to listening to the radio than sewing! My mum was a housewife who could throw £5 into a mangle and make it worth £30.  Such was her shopping brilliance. This worked well for the family, as my father was never one to buy a house and have a mortgage.

He didn't want financial pressures. He chose life over work and developed a love of travel.
I benefited from this because my older brother wanted peace and quiet to study for his O’ levels and I got to travel!

When most people were just discovering Benidorm in the 70s, my parents were exploring far flung places like South Africa, Japan, Hawaii, Mexico and I ‘had to’ go with them.  

All this travelling led to me wanting to be a pilot ‘when I grew up.’ That eventually passed, but my love of traveling remains to this day.

As I was growing up, my uncle ran a family retail business. He supplied paints and wallpaper way before Homecare, B&Q, Do-it-All and everything else came to the fore.  My brother and my two cousins had gone in there and I was expected to follow.

Sadly, my uncle’s business was dissolved before I came out of school.

I’ve always liked people. From the age of about five or six, I remember my uncle saying to my mum, "Give the kid a broom and let him sweep up." So, up until I was 16, that was my Saturday job.  I progressed from floor sweeping to serving and even went on a course to learn how to hang curtains in bay windows!

Looking back, I realise that I have always been an ‘out of the box’ thinker.

I remember certain teachers in secondary school reading out the curriculum, expecting us to write everything down, verbatim.  By the end of the year I would have about 15 exercise books filled with my scrawl. Such was the intensity of writing, I still have a mark on my ring finger of my left hand, where the pen pressed into it!

One day, I was so fed up, I said, “Miss, if you are just going to read from the book and we are just going to write it down – if you could take a Gestetner copy of it and distribute it to all of us, then you would save us a lot of time and then we could talk about the historical events.”

I got sent to detention for that.  I guess I could see things differently as a 15 year old and couldn’t help myself but to point this out. It was clearly taken in the wrong context, as what I wanted were discussions – maybe re-enactment – so I could get a feel for things, rather than a monosyllabic teacher reading from a book. I therefore found examinations difficult. Studying was hard. With hindsight, some visual aids, sounds or drawings would have helped me, but, alas, these were not available. So, at 16 when I took my CSE’s and O' levels, I failed all of them.  My best grade being a CSE grade 2 for English.

When the results came through, my parents were in dismay and didn’t know what to do with me.
After my results, my school recommended, and subsequently enrolled me in a 1 year foundation programme at the London College of printing.  The reason they did that was this was going to be one of the first courses that guaranteed me a job at the end of it.  So they felt that, if I was at least working, then that would get me into that mindset.  So that’s pretty much what I did. I got my City and Guilds certificate and passed with distinction. I learnt everything I could about the various processes of printing and got my first full time job in a printing supplies shop called 'Studio 91' in Turnham Green, West London.

If you look on a map, you’ll see that meant me going from virtually the furthest point East on the underground, to the furthest point West for the princely sum of £50 a week; £25 of that was paid to the employer from the Youth Opportunity Programme, and £25 a week came directly from the employer.  I worked from 8 to 5 with a 45 minute lunch break, 5 days a week and ‘only’ 10 till 4 on a Saturday. My weekly travel pass was £26 a week which meant I was left with just £24!

As much as I liked working in a retail shop, I did not like paying over half my wage to travel an hour and a quarter each way. So, about 6 months later, I left and found myself doing an array of retail jobs, such as conducting surveys on the telephone to snooker hall management.

Not glamorous but, I was earning good money. Money which could buy me nice trinkets – especially my RS1600i – a two door Ford Escort; my pride and joy.

“There was another unusual job I had a go at that I’ll always be glad I did; hair transplant selling.”

Shallow I know, but my desire for the high-life lead me to commission only sales and eventually into double glazing (via water filters).  Banging on people's doors, trying to get appointments, was no easy task. Nor was it any better calling people from the telephone directory. I did, however, manage to keep at it for three years.

There was another unusual job I had a go at that I’ll always be glad I did; hair transplant selling.
Now this really taught me about emotional feelings and, by using my mouth and ears in the proportions they were received, I learnt to understand the person in front of me and take the conversation from there. Unfortunately, it was commission only and I realised that, if I wanted to get married and have a family (which I did – no idea to whom, but I knew I wanted to be a husband and a father), I needed a 'proper job, with a regular wage.'

I decided to chat with my brother, who, as I said, was seven years older than me and by now, married and a father. After near bankruptcy following the dissolution of the aforementioned family business, he had drifted into financial services. So when I asked him, he said, "Vic, anyone who buys a house will need a life assurance policy at some point."   That led to me getting involved with various companies on a low basic salary /commission basis before stumbling into HSBC in 1994.

My brother has been a fantastic source of inspiration to me. Neither of us believe in the mantra of ‘you are the average of the eight closest people to you.’  Plough your own field and you can always look up and see what people are doing either side of you if you are built that way.

I am very family focused and providing for my wife and children is my number one priority. This certainly wasn't the case before I was married! It was definitely ‘Me, me, me and me,’ but bringing children into this world (I have four wonderful children who make me proud every day), made me think again about my life.

The best piece of advice I would give others is

“Don’t look at others; look at yourself.”  Benchmark against yourself and those that are nearest and dearest around you.  If they are happy in what you are doing, then you will ultimately be happy.

The worst piece of advice I’ve heard is

 “Just do it at all costs.”

From a monetary perspective this might sound like it makes sense, but if you are not careful, which I was not, you soon realise that you are losing everyone around you as you allow money to be your God. Fortunately, I noticed just in time to keep my friends, but sadly, my first marriage suffered because of it.

What has gone well for me is being my own man and running my own business. I thoroughly enjoyed being an employee of HSBC. I learnt huge amounts; presentation of yourself, how to work in a team, how to articulate yourself, how to manage and make decisions... It has made the transition into owner/director go smoothly, as well as making it easier to deliver an effective 30 second elevator pitch at network events!
One of the things I did that I would never do again is door-to-door sales! Thankfully, if I want to 'cold call' I can use Social media to put my view across, but in the 1980s, the only way you could get your voice heard was to knock on a door. I can't deny that early training has made any 'cold' approach I do far easier.

I’m of the opinion that, if people wanted double glazing, they would go out and get it and if they haven’t got it, there is a reason why. Unlike in my industry, where Government lays out legislation and companies have got to do something.

I know what my clients need and I know how to help them which is very different from trying to sell a product you’re not even sure people want. No, I certainly wouldn’t want to do that again.
In fairness, I have to say that, I could not have achieved my current level of success alone. I have children from my first marriage who are dependent on me, and I have a wife and a four year old son. Both my wife and ex-wife have been willing to accept the infrequency of income.

If someone wanted to start their own business I would just say, “Do it, but realise that you are not going to be an instant success overnight.” There are frogs that you will have to kiss that won’t necessarily turn into princes or princesses, and there is a lot of ground work that you will have to do.  Make sure you have got some money behind you; at least six months’ money in a bank account somewhere.  Go to every networking event you can and put your name out there.  Be confident and positive, but don’t be aggressive and thrust your business card at the first sign of an individual.
Knowing you have money behind you and that the bills are paid gives you an air of relaxation.  It makes you more approachable.  Compare that to someone who is very tense and ready to dive into any conversation.  As they extend their hand for you to shake, you find yourself clasping a wet sweaty palm, a dead giveaway that someone is under stress.

As we near the end of my chapter, I go back to my mother. She had an array of fantastic sayings and the one I live by is, “Measure twice and cut once.” Ask yourself, “Is this right, is this good?” And, just before heading full on into it, think again. I personally always look at the worst case scenario, although I know not everyone does.  Some can only see the positives in life.  I, on the other hand, have a healthy fear of failure and a healthy fear of what would be the worst case scenario.  I will always look at that and if I feel I can handle the worst case scenario, whatever that is, then I am able to move on.

I think of my bank account as my manager; it lets me know if what I’m doing is working well for me and my family.   I have created a lifestyle business that, as long as God puts breath in me, I will continue to do. I might slow down and shut my doors eventually. However, right now, I enjoy having the time to find out so much more about people I work with and people who become clients.
As we go on a voyage of discovery, we find out more about each other, and over time develop that wonderful 'know, like and trust' factor - the cornerstone of any business relationship.

And once in a while, something special and out of the ordinary crosses my path.

Last year, I had the opportunity to help right a wrong for a client who had lost a considerable amount of money when his funds were incorrectly invested. Fortunately, investors are protected. However, it sometimes takes more time, effort and sheer determination to resolve this kind of problem than the average man in the street has, especially when they are emotionally attached to the outcome.
It took two years of chasing, but it gave me an immense sense of satisfaction to be able to restore his faith in financial advisors and put him back to where he was in financial terms.

This story has become a part of my CV because I think it illustrates my approach to life and work in general; don’t give up and you will find a way!   If you failed your exams – don't worry. You might have to take the circular route to success, but you'll make it. I eventually got my diploma in Financial services aged 47 (I am 51 now). Yes, it was a lot easier for me at 16 to run out and be as bold as brass in front of a future employer and say, “I will do whatever you tell me you want me to do and do it better than someone with a load of O' levels" than it possibly is now.  But, there will be a 51 year old guy out there, who will be running a business who knows he got where he has by sheer determination and graft and he will give someone a chance because he knows that, “It is attitude, not aptitude that determines altitude.”

Extract from "Go For It! Sixteen SME Leaders Share Their Stories", 2016
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