I’ve been beavering away at the report I talked about last week. It has grown from a summary of the Measuring the Unmeasurable seminar to a full blown analysis of the role social media plays within a marketing campaign. I do fear it’s a little like the blind leading the blind as I’m far from an expert but then academia maintains that the best way to learn something is to teach it. At any rate, it’s entitled Creating a cost benefit equation for social media and will be finished soon.

As the title suggests, I’ve been pretty busy this week and have been appreciating just how important conversation can be. I seem to be surviving on snippets at work and am actually looking forward to the chance to sit down with my boss on Monday and exchange more than two sentences without being interrupted by the phone or a query. There’s a limit to what can be got across via email. Wherever possible I’ve been trying to make time to talk to my new co-workers and have spoken to a few with some degree of length but there are others I’ve barely said more than good morning to.

Similarly, exchanges with the boyfriend have largely consisted of updating each other of our days and discussing what to eat. When we are together we’re mostly quiet. It’s a good kind of quiet, infused with affection certainly, but I look forward to the weekend when we’ve some family visiting and will be sitting at a table with good food and wine and actually talking about something other than the Tesco order.

It’s something you take for granted however and so I want to raise a bit of awareness about aphasia. Aphasia is a communication disability which usually occurs after a stroke. I wasn’t familiar with the term myself until the tail end of last year when I spotted an advert on Gumtree asking for conversation partners. As someone who loves to talk as much as she loves to write, this immediately attracted me. I’ve had my training with NHS Speech and Language Therapists, had my CRB check and this week met with my conversation partner.

All I have to do is find an hour in my week to have a chat with someone. The important thing is that I’m not a Speech and Language Therapist or a doctor and so there is no monitoring or tracking “improvement.” There is no objective to the conversation beyond conversation as something good in itself. While obviously, having a stroke brings a host of challenges to the individual, it is also difficult at times for family and friends but again, there’s none of that for me. To us volunteers, the person we visit is the only them we’ve known. There’s a fresh slate and lots to talk about.

Strokes are something that make me quite angry. They seem to strike without warning and seem like a theft against a person. Being a bit of a stroppy tart I like to fight back against the things I feel are unjust (I’ll confess this often extends to little more than a daddy longlegs killing spree as I accuse them of trespass!) so this is my way of trying to help things. I’m feeling really enthusiastic about my volunteering and my conversation partner seems lovely and has a really cute dog (shallow, me?).

I’m not going to try and convert you all but I’d like you to take a moment and just appreciate what you have because that is the key to happiness.

Oh yes, brace yourself, I’m entering guru mode now people!

Being happy has a formula. I am genuinely a very happy person because I have discovered what it is that must be done in order to be happy. I’m no Pollyanna and can get as grumpy as the next person but my base level is sparkly.

Three rules:

1) Experience gratitude

The more you appreciate the things you have, the happier you’ll be. Keep a note of the little things. For example, each evening we have the boyfriends’ kids I go through a little routine with his youngest. The kid stands at the top of the stairs shouting “Kay story, Kay story.” I go to the bottom of the stairs and then crawl up them quickly while growling. When I reach the top he throws himself into my arms and shouts “Raaaaar.” Tonight I was in the middle of designing a formula for calculating the ROI of social media but I left it nonetheless because I am so lucky to have that moment so many times a month.

2) Live in the present

I sometimes look back with a degree of regret and of course I daydream about a future the boyfriend and I might have (particularly regarding holidays) but generally I try to live in the now. As I wrote that sentence, the boyfriend brought a bowl of potato wedges and a glass of red wine to the table < nom nom nom > I just ate a lovely meal that the lovely boyfriend cooked. I bought a gorgeous loaf of bread from Over Farm Market (along with £30 of other stuff we didn’t need) that he fashioned into burger buns. I have money to buy ridiculously expensive loaves of bread (it was £3.29!!!), a great bloke to share them with and a roof over my head and a table to eat at. Sure I’d like a bigger house one day but I’m not pining for it. I’m enjoying my life, doing a job I like while I work towards my bigger goals.

3) Have meaningful relationships

This one I struggle with a teeny bit. Not because my relationship with the boyfriend isn’t meaningful because by god he is absolutely the one if there is such a thing. Hmm maybe I take that back – he just came into the room to tell me that the dishwasher worked first time for him. Nah, I don’t take it back – he put the dishwasher on. No, my gripe is that it’s a touch self-satisfied, as though it was written by a smug married. It’s still true though so put effort into your friendships and if you are single, consider a fuck buddy over a one night stand. Wow, that is epic on the guru scale... screw around my children but make sure you like them enough to give them a piece of toast in the morning!
Despite not feeling as though I’ve been tweeting much recently and only sitting down to write my column at 9pm because I spent the earlier part of the evening tearing pages out of Coach Monthly, trimming them and then Pritt-sticking them onto sheets of A4 and scrawling over said sheets in scribbly biro. Of course this will be presented to my boss at my end of month update as a market segment research report or similar. I have been quite socially mediary this week.

Last Thursday I tweeted the following: “Very excited. @jminchew just booked us a table @TheDaffodil for tomorrow night. Wanted to go there for ages! #Ihavealovelyboyfriend.” The Daffodil then got in touch, checked what time our reservation was and promised there’d be a treat when we got there. Much as we endeavour to keep the romance alive (having both been married before we’d be crazy not to), life can sometimes get in the way a bit, particularly when you’re juggling multiple careers and joint custody of children, so it was nice to dress up. I spent a short era turning myself from the argumentative bint that gets bogged down with concerns about back of fridge hygiene back to the irreverent, entertaining ginger fox the boyfriend fell in love with. He wore cufflinks.

We were shown to the bar where we began perusing cocktail menus only to find drinks arriving a few moments later. Summer Tweets courtesy of the house. Now I’m no stranger to a free drink. I was after all (a lifetime ago) a KL partygirl once and in Gloucester have bet against barmen for drinks at Fosters on the Docks and enjoyed a Foursquare check-in freebie at the Old Bell but these were different. Free drinks tend to be small or watered down or stock that isn’t shifting but these were unctuous concoctions of vodka and passion fruit that tasted like summer in a glass. Following that was a truly outstanding meal with my starter of scallops served with belly pork and pea puree being the best starter I have ever eaten. And I don’t even like scallops. Yes I’m weird for ordering things I don’t like in a strangely perverse challenge to be proven incorrect but it’s lovely when you win the game!

The service was great but a little nervy. I felt as though our waiter had been warned that a crazed food critic was going to be running a commentary throughout the evening that would be used as an appraisal. Ok so yes, you can do that with twitter but I was on a date. Obviously we checked in and I took a photo of my free drink but once we were seated at our table we entered a strict no phone zone.

Quite the opposite situation was Monday where I drove up to Birmingham to attend Measuring the Immeasurable, the Digital Participation seminar hosted by Birmingham City University. There smartphones abounded as the participants kept both the world and each other updated of developments and findings via hashtag (#MDP10). It was a fantastic event with a really interesting talk by Alison Preston, a senior research associate at Ofcom who provided an overview of the ways Ofcom has attempted to measure digital participation. Her key areas of reach, breadth of engagement and depth of engagement were then the subject of the afternoon’s workshop groups.

I attended the workshop on Depth, run by Jennifer Jones. There we explored the use of social networks and content creation and sharing. Some great ideas came out, including my favourite that we should stop seeing social media as a place and start seeing it as a utility, to push its adoption through inclusion. If that sounds a bit jargon laden then think back to the telephone and how it evolved from an item used by few and visited in hallways to being the mobile we always have on us. By integrating into our lives, we will begin to use social media like we do our phones, blending seamlessly into our lives rather than something to log into. Of course lots of us are already doing that, the discussion here was about the current have-nots compared to the have’s of digital life.

From a professional stance, all this was gravy and I got a lot out of my time with Alison Smith of Pesky People regarding accessibility of websites. But from a personal stance I was left wondering. I visit a forum that suffers from being necessarily open to all and this includes any moron with connection to the net. I can humour those that voted Labour in the election but experience what the boyfriend refers to as his stabbing hand itching when presented with idiocy and bad grammar. I have memories of the internet when it was old and slow and far far quieter. There was a higher calibre of user back then and I wasn’t faced with the decision of whether or not to cut someone from my life on the basis of their incessant Facebook updating of their progress in Farmville. It’s easier to tolerate some people when you only interact sporadically. When faced with continual contact (albeit online), you realise that actually you rather wish that their little lost ponies were real just so that you could go and kick them in the head. And remember, these are people I class as friends. I shudder to think that the government wishes to encourage more of the underclasses online. Where will the jumped-up, argumentative, egotistical, intellectual bohemians go to feel smug if we lose the internet to some absurd socialist agenda?

Still, while this pocket of the net is all my own, I live in the real world. And quite happily too, I hasten to add. So I’m writing up my notes from Monday’s conference and will be making a report on how we can test and measure the impact of social media. I’m quite excited as it’s the first thing of it’s kind I’ve worked on from the angle of being a practitioner rather than an academic. 

I’ll be linking it on twitter when it’s done. So follow me...
This week I have mostly been exploring the masturbatory possibilities of time lords. But when not creating awkward questions for his kids to ask the boyfriend I have been sweet like chocolate; Swiss chocolate to be exact. Smooth, of good standard and completely and utterly neutral as yours truly has entered the world of management.

As the new Marketing Manager of the Dean Heritage Centre (four days and counting) I’m faced with lots of exciting challenges from the social media strategy that’ll launch very soon to developing the museum shop which is already a centre for Forest of Dean artistic excellence (a description that today saw me both ordering chocolate sheep poo and then having a meeting with the lovely local photographer Matt Caldwell). There’s lots to learn but also lots of scope for where I can take the role.

An unusual task (beyond being told that when duty manager I’m responsible for the chickens – a good thing in my eyes which my line manager interprets as an aspiration to be in the good life) has been being an ambassador for the outside world. The locals at the museum have been lovely and while calling me old butt (friend) is no doubt tongue in cheek it’s nice that they’re willing to joke with me.

At one point I was having a conversation about bluebells and one of the people I was speaking to couldn’t recall a place and said “oh you know, up North.” I replied that “up North” was a pretty big place. I got the sigh* and so I retorted that it was bad enough that most Southerners considered everywhere North of Birmingham to be one and the same but they were giving me the distinct impression that they applied that rule to Tewkesbury. They laughed and acknowledged my point.

Ok so my sweet like chocolate is the sort with chilli oil...

It’s been a busy week in addition to the new job and on Tuesday we went to meet Darrel Kirby at the New Inn. The boyfriend and I are both fans of his book The Story of Gloucester and were keen to pick up a copy of his new book The Story of Gloucester’s Pubs. I’ll confess I’ve only read bits from The Story of Gloucester but I love the stories the boyfriend tells me as we walk through town. I suppose I needn’t say much about the second volume but am keen to add new places to my haunts: The New Inn where I drink “Tango” Cider**, The Fountain where my brother got me shamelessly drunk one Saturday afternoon in the charming lounge, The Old Bell where I never drink but gobble dim sum, The Robert Raikes where a rather mental barmaid once refused to serve me (ok so I’ve rather gone off that place) and Cafe Rene which somehow manages to always be the place I want to be.

Then on Wednesday was #GlosTweetDrinks at the Old Bell. Hosted by Andrew Burgess, it’s a really friendly and inclusive meet for anyone interested in social media. I got some great ideas for my new role and had more great conversations that related not at all to work but rather were fun in themselves.

It has all left me feeling a little empty. My blinking cursor has several times been abandoned this evening in a most out of character lack of things to say...

Look at my purple pepper!***

It came in my veg box this week. I’m rather excited but can’t think what to do with it yet. I’m a bit awed by its purpleness. It seems so... turgid.

Hmm, I think I may have to call it a night lest I descend into the truly random. But bear with me dear readers. On Monday I’m attending a very interesting course which will hopefully see a return to form as I cover social media, ROI and the real value of information.

Meanwhile I’ll get some sleep and go to a toga party on Saturday night.



* The sigh is a trademark of anyone to whom everything North of where they live is pretty much one and the same and if I suggest that Whitby is at all distinct from Blackpool then I’m being pedantic.

** The Day-Glo orange one that’s right lush (did you see what I did there?)

I was a big Dawson’s Creek fan as a teenager. I had an excessive vocabulary and not unlike Dawson Leery had the perfect family and had a tendency to create or at least read drama into my everyday life. I probably tortured my first boyfriend far more than was really fair and Paul, hand on heart, I’m sorry. I was a strange teenager and I can only hope you are looking back and laughing from our comparative vantage point of being oh so grown up.

2008 was a frighteningly long time ago but I’m not convinced we ever really change. I was always hopelessly idealistic and with hindsight my marriage wasn’t as unhappy as I’d like to make it. My husband has his flaws for sure but we had many good times. The key thing was a world view that I had developed at fifteen. I wanted a big love, an all encompassing love and while I sincerely loved my husband, it wasn’t the stuff of teen dramas. Arguably (and this argument I used during the relationship) that kind of love is unrealistic or at least unsustainable. It can be dangerous to hold out for something that is quite possibly the stuff of Hollywood.

But at the grand age of 25 I decided I’d rather hold out for the ideal than settle and in a quite unexpected place I came across a phrase; Carpe Omnious (from the film Hard Candy). The phrase bounced through my mind. Seize it all. Take everything! The grammar wasn’t necessarily perfect but in my mind it became Carpe Omnium and I decided that it was the soundbite of my ideals.

I had the words Carpe Omnium forever imprinted on my skin this week. As part of my determination to follow through with my 30 before I’m 30 list I got inked. I was terrified by my artist was patient and we met twice before I actually went through with it. I was anxious about the pain but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared and I enjoyed a degree of adrenaline rush which I can readily appreciate can become addictive.

I confessed to my mum as soon as I got home, not wanting her to find out via Facebook. It may seem strange that at 27 I still feel a degree of being answerable to her but I think that level of respect is something we never really grow out of. Yes my body is my own and I behave in whichever ways I consider acceptable but it’s good to touch base now and again.

Something she wanted to know was why. As I was fully aware of my mum’s feelings about tattoos I had never bothered talking about my desire for one and so it came as something of a surprise. I have always been interested in them but that only really escalated due to a brief relationship with a friend. I had never spent much time close up with inked skin and I was fascinated by how it looked and felt. This was enhanced by the fact his day to day dress completely obscured what he looked like when not suited and booted.

I’ve always been fascinated by the line we each have between public and private and the varying shades along that scale that we reveal to different people. The study of proxemics considers our interpretation of personal space to be based on our culture. For instance, my experience of Sri Lanka was greatly marred by the acceptability of what I felt bordered on assault. As I climbed Sigiriya, “helpers” continually grabbed at my arm which unsteadied me as I flinched away from them. But the helpers seemed genuinely surprised when my ex-husband not only refused to tip them for their “help” but was angry at how much they had upset me. In what world is it acceptable to grab and pull at another man’s wife wondered my ex-husband. In what world does a man allow a woman to climb a mountain unaided they possibly wondered in return.

What we expose of ourselves to the world is a personal choice (at least amongst those of us not enslaved in Burqas) and I relish the decisions that entails. Among one group of people I know, my nickname is determined by my hair colour. Like Clementine I apply my personality in a paste. Similarly a girl I know whose hair is gorgeously curly, straightens it each day; each of us making choices as to how we wish to be perceived. Am I more interesting if I’m a redhead, is she more sophisticated with her sleek hair?

My tattoo has more than one meaning. One element is that I loved the idea of committing to a piece of art in an extreme way. A key part however, fits my interest of what is public and what is private. The design itself I’m happy to share (hence its inclusion here) and yet because I never wanted to have to dress around it, it is located somewhere only those closest to me will ever see it. Blown up, a photograph of an intimate part of my body becomes devoid of meaning associated with that aspect of the human anatomy. I can publically expose myself while retaining every degree of my privacy.

Magritte explained this far better in his The Treachery of Images than I could possibly hope to in words so please click the link if you aren’t already familiar with the work. What we see and what is there is more complex than first appears.

(This column is up a day late because it completely slipped my mind. I’m between jobs this week and took a trip to Liverpool with my mum. I got back around eight o’clock and was so eager to catch up with the boyfriend that I forgot it was Thursday.)
“Beware the attraction of the pure sciences. They are only pure in the way an ancient nun is – bloodless, without passion. No, no. Stick to the humanistic studies where, though the truth is more difficult to establish and the proofs are more fragile, yet there is breath of living man in them.”

That Monsieur Treville’s instruction to Jean-Marc in Trevanian’s The Summer of Katya made me smile when I read it this week is unsurprising. As an academic in the social sciences it’s nice to see a defence of my field. It is a sometimes frustrating truism that the reason we know the social scientists are not true scientists is because they seek to defend that claim in a way a physicist or mathematician will never do.

In addition to reading (and loving) The Summer of Katya, this week I attended and presented a paper at a conference hosted by the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. The conference, Ethno-Politics and Intervention in a Globalised World, was my first in about twelve months and I felt pretty out of practise as I approached the beard* of terribly intelligent people gathered at what is one of the most attractive university campuses I have ever visited.

I did an ok job and got some great feedback so my attendance was worth the conference fee, accommodation and petrol bill plus unmissable gala dinner that represented a quarter of my monthly take home as an intern but more than that it refreshed me. (For the record, tomorrow is my last day as an intern. I’m then taking a short break before beginning a new role as the Marketing Manager of the Dean Heritage Centre so everything is truly gravy dear readers). Anyway, refreshment...

The gala dinner was hosted at Bovey Castle which was simply incredible but it wasn’t the chilled Tattinger (ok it was a bit) that perked me up. Rather it was the change of scene that gave me a fresh perspective. I had rather hoped for this when I wrote the column on Focus four weeks ago. Frustratingly for me knowing oneself does not equate to being able to manipulate oneself into action. I needed challenging conversation, a charming castle and yes, chilled champagne to really get me going. As I gazed across the garden, flute in hand I felt more myself than I had been for a while.

I came across an article on Marie Curie today that I liked. So often the story we hear is one dimensional when reality is always textured and multi-faceted; passion and drama underpinning science as much as art is obvious and yet somehow surprising. What then for the middle ground of social sciences? Well there’s plenty of sex there. My paper was entitled Islam Hadhari: A policy for domestic terrorism and a cornerstone example was the recent death of a 33 police officer caught with a woman to whom he was not married. When you study society, you inevitably study sex.

But this is not the kind of physical I alluded to in the title. Instead, it’s physics (sorry if I led you on there). Ok not really but that was the term that Ambassador Lawrence Butler used on Monday night. Ambassador Lawrence used the term Europhysics and it was not the only time during the conference I heard the term. I am familiar with Geography essentially meaning a spatial dimension in addition to a subject which essentially means nothing -  and if I was a student at NUS (National University of Singapore) I’d be a student of political geography within the sciences rather than a student of politics within the social sciences as I am at Durham (really it’s just semantics!) - and I rather liked the term Europhysics for despite thinking the application of physics to human interaction is excessively grandiose, the notion has its appeal. Good lord but that was a long sentence. I do apologise.

My point is playfulness.** There’s a tendency both in academia and industry to take things a little too seriously. When we insist on pinning the proverbial moth to the card in order to better examine it (and hurt it I hope, as I hate the freaky creatures) we then only see it within the context we have placed it in. Objectivity is important in the sciences and reducing external factors is considered an essential pathway to finding truth. The challenge of the social sciences is that we cannot place people in isolation and every interaction with the subject takes the relationship further from objectivity.

Well I like to get down and dirty with my science. My paper was massively compromised by how personal it was (I took the opportunity to report on Malaysia as I saw it, not as my thesis presents it) and I actually think it was all the better for that. My findings did not call on the interviews I conducted but rather on tipsy conversations as I perched on a friends’ knee sharing his beer bottle. By being a friend, I heard the real story. I discussed religious education over Roti Canai, moral philosophy over Biryani and “game” over bubble tea. Physics isn’t the right word but it was physical; it was living in the moment.

I don’t actually think the pure sciences are as without passion as an ancient nun (Marie Curie destroys that illusion) but I think there is risk in purity and in flexibility, dirty unstructured flexibility, there is greater truth. This applies to everything from my industry of choice (the fascinating world so subject to Boxes) to how we choose to live our everyday lives. So get physical, give things a go but please hold on the jargon. Europhysics? Really?

* I have long believed that the appropriate collective noun for academics is a beard.

** Virtual fiver to the evoister to can name the poster whose grandmother-in-law was saddened by the change in definition of the word gay.