Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Top tips for this Xmas and the next one...

People watching: 
Neil Nugent, executive chef for Morrisons

Morrisons' Xmas food
Gingerbread houses are expected to be BIG this year
Every year it feels like Christmas kicks off earlier than the previous year. All of us have a friend who has written her cards by the end of the November, or completed her Christmas shopping a month ahead of schedule, or got the tree up on the first day of December. Well, beat this Xmas keenos: I recently met someone who signed off on his Christmas back in April! In fact he's already preparing for next year. I'm talking about Morrisons' very own father of Christmas, Neil Nugent, otherwise known as the supermarket's executive chef. "Christmas is over for me now," he told me at the BritMums bloggers' Xmas do this week. "I'm on next year now."

The chef, who was poached from Waitrose by Morrisons in 2011, has signed off on 972 product launches for Christmas, all of which have been personally tasted over a period of time. Now he is waiting with bated breath to see whether we (the customers) will warm to his festive feast. "My neck's on the block for the range," he admitted, perhaps mindful of his 42-week old turkeys about to meet their doom. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The ghosts of Stationers' Hall

In 1403 an enterprising group of booksellers (known as stationers) set up a fraternity of tradesmen. A few hundred years later in 1670, after the great fire of London, they built themselves a beautiful meeting place, called The Stationers' Hall, a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral. They could hardly have predicted that several centuries later, a swarm of opinionated women would storm their hall, ready to challenge the male establishment. Thanks to the London Press Club, we had all been invited to attend a forum on women in media led by a female panel from journalism's frontline. 

Female panellists at the London Press Club event: Women in the media
THE PANEL: Kay Burley (Sky News), Carla Buzasi (Huffington Post), 
Anne McElvoy (Evening Standard), Lisa Markwell (Independent on Sunday), 
Sarah Sands (Evening Standard)
Credit: Nigel Howard / London Evening Standard

"I feel personally that I have got a responsibility in the way we portray women," Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, told us in her opening salvo. She believes women bloggers are "worried about putting themselves out there" and has deliberately put female role models on her front page to set an example.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Reading for pleasure

Tuesday night found me discussing my novel, A Sister for Margot, with a book club from Nettlebed. The prospect of talking about my work with a group of strangers is always daunting, but the group's relaxed vibe made for an enjoyable evening. There's something about a book club that oils communication (or was that the wine?) and leads you down conversational alleys you may not have visited before. In two hours, we covered blighted potential, use of the present tense in A Sister for Margot, ebooks, the war dead and the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Books on shelf
Books could keep you out of prison
I know from my own book club that discussion of a story or plotline is often a jumping-off point for more personal revelations. It is a cliche to say that women love to chat, but book clubs provide a few extra ingredients: literary analysis, escapism, a window on another world and the chance to exchange ideas. Girls consistently outperform boys at school and the popularity of book clubs amongst women perhaps harks back to a fondness for structured study and analysis.