Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested?
As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.
After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.
In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.
Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.
This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .
It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.
My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game
My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.
I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.
Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.
So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:
‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.
Have you ever been to Exmoor Zoo? Have you ever heard of Exmoor Zoo?
If you haven’t I’d heartily recommend a visit. Situated in the Devon countryside, down a little country lane, this zoo has more of a family feel than any I’ve visited. We were spending a weekend in the Exe Valley so this location was less than an hour’s drive away.
While nowhere near the scale of Longleat Safari Park or zoos in Bristol or Paignton, it has a charm all of its own and is suitable for families, or those without children.
We visited over the Easter bank holiday and the cost was less than £50 for five of us. Given that’s close to the cost of a cinema visit for us, we hoped it would offer at least a couple of hours of enjoyment and entertainment. We arrived at 11am and left the premises at around 3pm.
When we arrived it was already busy but there is an additional car park as the one near reception is quite small. One tip is to use the toilet on the way in as there are no toilets around the site. This is due to the site not being connected to the mains (it’s all explained on notices around the reception area).
Immediately on collecting tickets as we’d booked online (be aware a family tickets is two adults two children so, in our case, we had to pay an extra amount for our third child), we were given activities for the children to take part in. For me, this is always a good sign. My children love having to find or discover something. So it was a trail where they could collect stamps of animals and another where they could answer tricky questions and then get an Easter egg at the end.
As my children are a bit older, this meant they often ran off for a short time to fill in gaps on their Easter ‘find an animal’ trail.
The zoo has the sense of being a garden, you move quickly from one animal to the next – but there’s also a feeling that the staff know what you are thinking. There are some spaces where you wonder if that space is big enough for the animal within – then you read the blurb and that question is answered.
There is animal activity all around, so bird, bee and bat boxes which children can look at. I personally love the bigger animals but found myself enraptured by the smaller ones too. I didn’t get the feeling of there being animals which were just ‘making up the numbers’. Even the sparrows had their own special spot.
On site, there are lots of activities where families can get involved in including talks, feeding the animals and holding animals. We’re not good with this in our family, we tend not to like to stick to any timetable or dictate our time around set events, but plenty of families did take part. As you walked around you heard them saying they had to be ‘here’ or ‘there’ at a certain time.
Anticipation was built up by continuous reference to the Exmoor Beast which intrigued the children, who love a sense of the mysterious. So it was quite magical when the zoo’s own beast, languidly stretched, walked down from its perch and marched around its pen.
Another thing which I enjoyed was the good use of the natural landscape and of look-out points around the site. Some of the site is quite steep and rugged, but the animals seemed to like it. Don’t get me wrong, the site is quite accessible, though some paths will be trickier for pushchairs and possibly wheelchairs.
- One of the pumas resting in the sunshine at Exmoor Zoo
The only odd point was one small enclosed look-out area, overlooking the antelope, where there was a picnic table in the middle where a family had stopped for lunch. In this small space, this seemed to have two effects, putting off some people from going into have a look across the enclosure as there wasn’t a lot of wriggle room, or interrupt the family who found themselves being watched closely as they tucked into their sandwiches.
Also one of the children’s Easter egg discoveries was in this small enclosure, so it encouraged more and more eager children to mill around the eating family. If I had one tip, it would be to remove that seating as it did seen to give visitors a confused experience. Families do tend to create a private bubble around themselves so it’s easy to feel like you are intruding on them.
However, further around the site the play area for children is very spacious and there’s plenty of picnic room. There’s a small café on site and the quality of the food is excellent. Much better than in other venues. The price tag for five came to £40 but this is fairly normal for us – and in many places would cost far more.
All in all – it was a good visit, value for money, more educational than expected and lots of fun. Even the small egg given as a reward for the children completing the trail was decent and not a disappointing, tiny, hollow piece of low-grade chocolate.
Find out more here – http://www.exmoorzoo.co.uk
I’ve decided that I’m going to do a series of related blogs about the challenges of creating a community magazine
SWINDON HERITAGE – www.swindonheritage.com
Back in January, a group of three people in Swindon – Graham, Mark and Frances – decided to write, design and print Swindon Heritage to celebrate the town’s history with interesting stories, pictures, archives and ‘today’ stories or interviews influenced by history. I was not involved initially.
The idea had been kicking around for some time but eventually this trio of writers and historians decided to go for it. No money or support came from any outside source. Swindon’s oldest company Arkells hosted the launch where about 70 people attended – including me.
The first edition was of exceptional quality – I knew the content was strong but the design and high quality glossy feel was unexpected. Then the trio asked me to help out in a consultancy role, to push other ideas and help out. We have had wonderful content, so far enough for a year. The challenge is raising enough to cover all costs and perhaps become a social enterprise.
So for the last few weeks, I’ve had a go at selling advertising space, had various meetings with more to come and have just enjoyed having any role in this lovely publication.
We’ve had great support from Swindon Council, both MPs (please subscribe Sirs if you haven’t already), the new Police & Crime Commissoner for Wiltshire, and hundreds of subscribers. We’ve also been supported by more than a dozen local independent shops and newsagents eager to stock the magazine (it sells at £4.99 a copy).
One big surprise, and disappointment, has been the reluctance of bigger companies to even agree to sell the magazine or even look at it, taking just a small percentage of the cover price. We have repeatedly tried to get W H Smiths to sell the magazine in the Swindon area – but they keep saying we have to go through their normal distribution process – something we cannot afford. How disappointing that one of the town’s biggest employers has no ability to stock a community magazine.
The other disappointment was Asda – with two big stores in Swindon. Asda makes a big deal about being part of the local community .However when it comes to Swindon Heritage – it’s a different matter. After hearing the spiel about having to go through their ‘normal’ processes so they can take a 20 to 25 per cent cut (which we cannot afford) – they did agree to look at the magazine.
Sadly, Asda head office in Leeds said it was not considered suitable for its customers in Swindon and would not consider stocking it. (I promise you there’s nothing inappropriate with this magazine).
So clearly its community agenda is highly selective. I wonder if Swindonians living in West and North Swindon feel happy that Asda has decided what is and is not suitable for them.
Is Asda for the community – what do you think?
Still, I’m hoping that one of the other supermarkets in Swindon or big retailers will be the first to support us – believe me I’ll shout about that. So come on Sainbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Martins et al – we’re waiting to hear from you….
I want to shout out about this lack of support from some of the town’s bigger businesses to show them up against those small businesses which are more than ready to ‘take a chance’ and are happy with their smaller cut of the cover price.
All of our stockists get a free shout-out in the May edition which comes out at the end of next week – front page picture is a lovely image of the late, great Diana Dors. If you live in Swindon and want to learn more about your town’s history – this is the magazine for you.
Parents are now dealing with the summer holiday season and with that comes the cost of having children off school.
Where would you draw the line in paying for kids' activities?
I’m not talking about the speed at which food is hoovered up (I bought six big yoghurts and they were gone within a few hours) or the amount of extra washing. (Anyone with teenage girls will know how children dump perfectly clean clothes into a washing basket to change into the ‘appropriate’ outfit for that particular minute).
No, it’s the almost visible rubbing of hands for those businesses who rely on children and families for their income. It’s not just holidays that cost more during school holidays, it’s any type of entertainment.
It’s our modern need to continually give our kids ‘things to do, places to go, people to see’. Why is this?
When I was a kid, we went on a week’s holiday no more than 100 miles away and then I was at home day after day, week after week.
Entertainment was self-generated. Imagination was key, as were friendships.
The biggest outing was to the local corner shop with 10p to buy lots of sweets. My parents didn’t have the money for day-trips or extras which we now take for granted.
This was brought home to me this week when my son, who’s 4, desperately wanted to go to a soft play area which had moved premises to a larger site, closer to our house.
Okay, I thought, let’s go. We walked in behind a couple, probably grandparents, with two children, one in a pushchair. They were complaining about the fact that they had to pay for the baby because she was over six months.
So I looked at the price list, which frankly I hadn’t considered. At other similar sites in Swindon, you can pay per half hour, so you can control the cost and keep it within reason.
No more, the fees here were flat – so £5.95 for each of my daughters and £3.95 for my son, oh and 75p for me to take up a seat within the premises. Total cost, almost £17. That’s before buying any drinks or refreshments.
Disappointing my son, I just turned and said that it was too much money. Even if we’d gone in and I bought four drinks, we’d be looking at probably £25 for that entertainment.
As a business person, I understand that costs might need to go up but surely there needs to be some moderation. What about more flexible terms – per half hour costs for example? Or a loyalty card scheme?
As a customer, it seemed I was paying through the nose for a new venue and I employed the simplest tactic in the book – I walked out.
Even if refreshments prices had risen a little – at least that’s an expense that I choose to make. Also what extras are on offer to justify more money? Is there free internet access? An internet cafe facility?
It’s a cheek to charge parents 75p for simply taking up space within a space that was alarmingly empty anyway.
I’m afraid this business has priced itself out of the its own market. It’s only been open for a few weeks but who’s going to go there often with prices like that?
As a working mum, I know that at it’s previous location, groups of childminders would sometimes go there as a treat for their young charges. I can guarantee that they won’t go now – the cost would be far too high.
If you ever want to know what’s good value for money for entertaining children – ask your local childminders, they are experts in value for money.
Let’s hope that this small business does some serious market research around its own competitors and adjusts accordingly. Lower your prices or offer something extra and shout about it.
If it doesn’t, I give it a year at the outside.