Thursday, 29 March 2012

Love Running

Logo Used with Permission

I'm ashamed to admit that exercise and I parted ways over 10 years ago. It wasn't a dramatic falling out - more of a gradual drifting apart in the increasing busy-ness of everyday living. Periodically I would espouse these grandiose plans: "I'm going to take up rowing"; "I'm going to join a netball team again"; "I'm going to go running". Most ideas never saw the light of day, but I would occasionally manage to drag myself out to jog round a local park for all of about 10 minutes before the boredom set in and I'd inevitably call it quits.

Needless to say, I don't love running. 

With that in mind, I signed up to run 10k for three different causes being collectively supported by the church community I belong to. The initiative 'Love Running' aims to see hundreds of people achieve significant change locally and abroad through taking part in our city's annual sponsored run on behalf of a number of charities. The basic concept is literally love in action. Which is all very well, good and inspiring but not the whole reason why I signed up.

I signed up because I'm in a position where it's incredibly easy for me to live a comfortable life. Not a perfect, niggle-free life, but one that is mercifully untouched by real conflict and calamity on any level: physical, emotional. There isn't much that I need to really put myself out to achieve in my day to day life: I don't need to walk miles for water, I don't need to sell street papers like the Big Issue from dawn until dusk because if not I won't scrape together enough change for overnight accommodation.

Being comfortable is no bad thing. And from a position of comfort, it is still possible to be generous in effective ways: foregoing the fiver I might have spent on a magazine and donating that instead, or the kindnesses that have no financial cost but are unequaled in their worth. Even so, for me at this particular point in time and for a largely unknown reason, I felt like it would be a good idea to actually put myself out. 

And so, together with my husband, we are paying. We are paying in joining fees, we are paying in training time, we are paying in effort. Blood, sweat and tears are all part of the equation (on my part at least!). In doing so, we hope to raise £500 for the people here and elsewhere in the world who have no choice but to pay a huge price just to keep going in their day-to-day living; the people who give every ounce of strength to keep treading water and not be drowned by overwhelming circumstances.

My capacity to endure the unfamiliar amounts of exercise I'm putting my body through is increasing over time. But when I (frequently) want to stop I'm trying to remind myself to run in honour of other people's perseverance and for the privilege of being able to alleviate some of the things they struggle against.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

'Works For Me' - with Hollyblue Bakery Founder

'Works for Me' is a series of interviews with people who are managing to make money out of the things they love doing.

Graphic Design by Debs Ford
Used with Permission

I met Jamie Wade, owner of Hollyblue Bakery, at a party on New Year's Eve and was instantly interested in her business. I invited her out for a coffee and plied her with questions, wanting to access the mind of that most fascinating of species: the entrepeneur.

Not that she would necessarily characterise herself in that way. During our chat Jamie sketched out the evolution of her online bakery with a blend of self-depreciating confidence. She comes across as someone who is enjoying putting her passions to good use, but at the same time is aware of the fact that her business venture is taking her out on a limb.

Paul O'Connor - Used with Permission

"Overall people have been really encouraging," she says. "I didn't tell many people at first - there's always the fear that people will turn around and say 'who do you think you are?'. And it's more personal when it's your own business - you're sometimes wary of sharing what you do, because if people reject the idea it can feel like they're rejecting you." Thankfully, the combination of a good idea, the right skills-set and her obvious enthusiasm has meant negative reactions are few and far between. 

Paul O'Connor - Used with Permission

Hollyblue Bakery has its beginnings in the sponges Jamie used to send her Mum in the post. Despite being protectively packaged in decorative tins, they would often be "mushed" on arrival. "My housemate was sent a box of brownies from his girlfriend and I realised they were perfect for posting." Her subsequent research revealed a handful of UK companies offering brownie deliveries, often as part of the business model of an organic or farm shop. "I just felt that sense of 'I can do that'." And so she did.

Paul O'Connor - Used with Permission
Tapping into the revival in favour of unique presents and all things handmade, Hollyblue Bakery provides a gift-giving service. Jamie's brownies are ordered and sold online through Etsy, arriving beautifully boxed and wrapped in tissue paper. Having teamed up with friend and graphic designer Debs Ford, she is overcoming her discomfort regarding self-promotion and slowly learning to handout her butterfly-adorned business cards. "Hollyblue is a type of butterfly. I looked up wildflower names at first, but the ones I liked were taken. But actually butterflies are more fitting for me - I've always liked them."

It's that sense of following her likes and interests that is most encouraging to witness, and the experience of it is exhilarating for Jamie: "It keeps me sane. I have a 9 to 5 job that I'm not particularly passionate about, so it's great to also be doing something I love and to do it with a purpose." 

Paul O'Connor - Used with Permission
Fitting in baking around work takes organisation, with orders being checked in the morning, batter mixed in her lunch break and baking and and boxing taking place in the evening ready for posting the next morning. "Because these are gift boxes, they're often for specific dates. Christmas was intense!" 

Paul O'Connor - Used with Permission
There are also those ancillary issues to get used to: tax returns, food hygiene inspections, accounting. "In a previous job as a pub manager I was involved in some of those things to a certain extent so I think back to that, as well as learning as I go."

And the future? "My current full-time job is coming to an end in April, so I have a few options. I don't like doing things by halves so it would be great to devote more time to this. But you've got to be sensible about these kinds of things... In the longer term I'd love to run a larger scale coffee house, so it's all good practice."

With her mix of sensible optimism, vision and proactivity, whatever unfolds for Jamie after April is bound to be both exciting and inspiring. 

To order brownies from Hollyblue Bakery's Etsy store click here
Follow the bakery's progress at:

Photography by Paul O'Connor 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

"She-Wolves" - Helen Castor

Since finishing the first of Anita Roddick's autobiographies, I've made my way through a piece of fiction (One Day by David Nicholls) and am back on the biographies with an account of George Mueller's life - "All Things Are Possible" by A.T. Pierson, first published in 1901. I'm not a very faithful reader: I oscillate between not reading anything to having multiple non-fiction books on the go. In addition to the Mueller biography (which I started in around spring 2010), I'm also enjoying the book pictured above.

"She-Wolves: the Women who Ruled England Before Elizabeth" by Helen Castor fascinates me on a number of levels. First, it's just miraculous that Castor has managed to write about distant history in a way that captures my attention. Despite being a believer in the value of the past, I've often struggled with historical accounts, getting bogged down in the dates and details, losing the humanity. With Helen Castor's writing, that's not remotely possible: she weaves names and events into a seamless narrative, making for an easy read without abandoning intellect. 

The second fascinating thing for me about this book is that it gives centre stage to lives that were seen as sub-plots and anomalies by chroniclers at the time. Reading it makes me feel something like archeologists must feel when they unearth new evidence to support old hunches about an ancient civilisation. In this case, my hunch has always been that mainstream history is, at best, only half the story. This book proves that, shedding light on areas that have previously been overshadowed.

And the other striking thing about "She-Wolves" is just how current these stories from the 1100s onwards are. From coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee to the reoccurring discussions surrounding female leadership in the corporate sphere, the themes of this book are entirely relevant to modern dialogue. Maybe that's why the BBC have decided to make a series of the same title, presented by Helen Castor and based on the book. It's definitely part of the reason why I'm watching it.

Friday, 2 March 2012

100 Postcards

Occasionally I find myself acting as if I live in Dawson's Creek or One Tree Hill where heart-to-hearts are the order of the day. Except in real-life it's often just embarrassing or really, really controversial to go out on a limb and say things with no scripted response to guarantee the recipient will 'feel' where you're coming from. The flipside of that is the way it's even more magical when that genuinely happens: when you said the right thing at the right time and good things might get better because of it. All the things I wanted to say to the recipient of postcard number 1 wouldn't fit on three A4 sheets of paper, let alone the back of an A5 card with a quarter filled with address details. I was partly prompted to write because of my vague, magazine article inspired ambition to send 100 postcards over 12 - 18 months. But I was mostly motivated by the fact that when people matter, they should know.
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