The Power of Being Seen for Who You Are

Reg Parrett is a man approaching a milestone, he’ll be 100 next year and shows no signs of slowing down. Dapper and debonair, this is a man who had “great larks” with the RAF, became an interior designer responsible for transforming homes and hotels across North Wales well into his late 80’s and, more recently, has proven it is possible to climb onto a shed roof when you are over the age of 95.

He is sharp, humorous and fiercely independent with a dog that understands his dislike of hearing aids – helpfully eating one so that Reg no longer has to wear it. During the past decade he has travelled on the Orient Express, visited Ronnie Scott’s and complained that the Ferrari his grandson was taking him around the Welsh mountains in was not being driven “fast enough”.

Here’s something else about Reg; I have never met him. I know about him because I had the pleasure to interview the cautiously driving grandson, Neil, about the reason he founded Helpd, an organisation that connects self-employed carers to people in need of care. A prostate operation designed to fix a problem had robbed Reg of much of his independence and, given what you have read about him up until now, you can imagine how infuriated he was at the prospect of relying on others.

It is in Reg’s DNA to be self-sufficient. When his wife died ten years ago he taught himself to cook so he was damned if he was going to be a recipient of meals on wheels off the back of an unsuccessful operation. His family made regular visits, but it soon became clear that, like it or not, having someone around who could help Reg to tidy the house, mow the lawn and help him continue to enjoy his social life was important.

Having investigated what the local authorities could provide and looked at private care agencies, Neil felt that there had to be a better way. What his grandfather needed was someone who could see him for who he was – a sociable, capable man who wants to live as independently as possible. Having a different person visit him every day or an agency worker with only 20 minutes to spare was almost worse than doing nothing.

So, along with his friend Luca, Neil founded Helpd. The carers are self-employed, which means that they can set their rates and agree their hours with their clients. For people requiring care they get to choose their carer, creating a trust-based relationship and continuity that leads to companionship.

However, despite Neil creating a business inspired by his grandfather’s needs, Reg, as you may expect, resisted mightily. It took two whole years before he finally saw that perhaps his grandson was onto something.

Come next year, Reg will be celebrating another milestone – a year with Karen (also known as “the lady that you send round to me”) someone who mows the lawn, tidies the house, helps with appointments and, every Friday, is the companion that he takes out to lunch. Proving to his friends in his North Wales town that he’s every bit as debonair as he used to be and demonstrating the power of being seen for who you are.


As a writer, I love telling other people’s stories. If you want me to help you tell yours, get in touch with me at toni@tonikent.co.uk

In Praise of Microsoft Partners

It’s Microsoft Inspire awards season and I’m delighted to see UK Microsoft partners well and truly represented amongst the winners. Seeing the celebratory posts prompted me to think about the partners I worked with during my 10 years at Microsoft – many of which were spent as a Partner Account Manager.

I’ve written and spoken about my time working at ‘The Mothership’ but haven’t said much about the partner community. Something I now intend to fix because it’s thanks to them that I:

A: Learned what’s really involved in running a business – something that stood me in great stead for setting up on my own.

B: Made sure that I didn’t get too corporate to be employable anywhere else.

C: Made enough money that when I decided it was time to leave, I was financially secure enough to do so. My very best years were spent as a PAM for the LAR community – all hail EA agreements!.

So, in no particular order, here’s some Microsoft partners I’d like to thank:

Bytes Software Services

Do you know how much I loved you? If the Venga Bus was designed solely to transport one Microsoft partner around, it was you. Nobody partied like you did, nobody made me laugh as much as you. On more than one occasion, nobody booked more revenue than you. You probably paid for my kitchen. You definitely paid my kids’ nursery fees.

Teksys

My very first partner and no longer in existence (these two things are NOT related) so instead I will say enormous thanks to Shaun Frohlich for his guidance, encouragement, wise words and referrals.

SCC

Now I think you know that I loved you. Still do. People didn’t want to be your PAM, they said it was “too hard” but that was because they didn’t know what to do with a privately owned organisation chock full of personalities who saw no reason to do what a 25 year old in a nice suit told them that the corporate scorecard said they should do. We got along famously. You did a Google deal that led to a meeting with the UK GM of Microsoft that I will never forget. It kind of went along the lines of “HOW THE **** DID THIS HAPPEN?! WHO LET THIS HAPPEN?!” You invited me to present to your board, you gave me amazing opportunities and one person in particular helped me challenge some misconceptions I had about what it takes to be successful in the business world. Cheers John 🙂

Computacenter

Who’s bright idea was it to give me both SCC and Computacenter to manage at the same time? It took a while to build trust and I was never going to fit with your enterprise sales team but working with the SBU was a fantastic experience as was getting involved in exec briefings between our two organisations – I became fantastically adept at getting to know the executive assistants and writing 8 page briefing documents. We went through the launch of Windows 7 together and the horror of trying to explain to sales people who were used to winning huge deals that, really, what they wanted to be selling was BPOS.

Softcat

I never got to be your PAM…but I wanted to (we all did). Not least when there was an emphasis on booking mid-market revenue 😀

One of the best things about building a career outside of Microsoft is that I have worked with, and still get to work with, with some excellent Microsoft partners and associated businesses. These include Sol-Tec, LeadaMarket, Tech Data, Incredible Results, Coeo, Mimecast, ResourceiT and NAK Consulting. Working with them outside of the corporate walls, but with the benefit of years of tech industry knowledge, has been a new, rewarding experience in itself.

So if you’re going to Microsoft Inspire this year, enjoy the keynotes – sorry, “corenotes”…whose terrible idea was that? Enjoy the networking, the 101’s, the deep dives, the entertainment, the whole spectacle of being in an enormous venue with tens of thousands of people.

Enjoy the competitiveness of the country lounges and trying to out-do the Netherlands when it comes to team spirit (you won’t, they’ll send three thousand people in orange t-shirts who will all sit together at every given opportunity, wins every time). Enjoy the soul-crushing, head-swimming hangovers that are not fixed by free coffee and bran muffins. Enjoy shopping on a work trip. Enjoy getting to know the Microsoft team and the chance to have a beer with someone who ordinarily you’d superglue into their car to stop them getting to a customer before you. Enjoy the knowledge that outside of some of the things you’ll hear that make you want to be a little bit sick in your mouth, you are a community that is really, truly valued by an enormous number of people. Me included.

What Camping and Business Travel Have in Common

Not so long ago I wouldn’t have set foot inside a tent.  The aversion to canvas was in part formed by an early experience with the Brownies where we camped on a rugby pitch in Abergavenny; one of our party had (to put it delicately) a “very upset tummy”, the rest of us were just “very upset”.  It was also informed by a strong desire to avail of as many 5* hotel experiences as possible – which, as it turns out, was a very good plan as once children arrived, the cash with which to do this vanished under an ocean of costs associated with sports clubs and the buying of shoes every six months.

Eventually I acquiesced and our family has now celebrated five years of tent-ownership which began with borrowing a tent, and ended with us owning not just a tent, but an awning, several flash gadgets and a habit for campsites that come with great facilities.  What began as a way to holiday cheaply has resulted in something that is not too far off business travel because….

Small = smart

I once managed a week in Washington with just carry-on luggage (ok, Business Class carry-on but it still counts!).  Miniature toiletries, layering of separates, strategically positioned shoes to maximise space, anything to avoid queuing for hours at a carousel or the magical game that is wondering whether your luggage will reach the same destination as you…. This habit has now transformed into the decanting of shampoo into small bottles, sleeping bags that fold into teeny pockets and collapsible colanders (who knew the joy that little gadget would bring?!).

A little luxury goes a long way

Some people won’t travel without a scented candle for their hotel room (I never once did that, but I get why you would), others insist on a glass of champagne after take-off (I definitely did that).  For camping this transforms into good wine, proper cutlery, farm shop burgers and cheeseboards.  Our friend once brought a glass cloche to protect, display and serve a rather nice cake from.  It was a crazily fragile thing to take into a field full of children and guy ropes but not one of us did not appreciate its beauty over a Tupperware pot.

You will covet other peoples’ stuff

On a business trip it’s all about admiring your neighbour’s shoes / laptop bag / Luis Vuitton toiletry bag.  Back when we had to share rooms with other people at conferences as part of a cost-saving / how to make employees feel deeply uncomfortable exercise, I tried on my roommate’s Manolo Blahniks while she was out.  Upon her return I confessed to my terrible behaviour. And then she let me try them on again – yay!    

Now we remark favourably on our friends’ camping stoves, tent carpets and camping mats, and harbour ambitions to one day own a kitchen stand.  It will be ours…

The day hasn’t started unless coffee has been served

In a business context it’s mega hangovers thanks to dinner with clients and all-nighters. When camping it’s being woken by what sounds like a concrete mixer (when in fact it is deer nibbling at grass) or having to take your child for a wee in the dark several times during the night.  All of these fade away with the first cup of strong, hot coffee.

The feeling when you get home

Whether it’s a five day business trip to the US requiring inordinate amounts of smiling nicely at customers and a cast-iron constitution, or a long weekend of fresh air and outdoor pursuits with your family, both of these things are true:

  1. You will feel like you need a holiday afterwards   
  2. There is nothing like your own bed!

Before

Before testosterone takes hold

And stubble grows upon your cheek
Before your voice descends an octave
Could I forever hold this week

Before the scent of little boy
Slips away like grains of sand
Before your chest and shoulders broaden
Could I forever hold your hand

Before your sleepy tousled hair
Is tamed into a grown-up style
Before your giggle turns to rumble
Could I read to you for awhile

Before your little body’s shadow
Lengthens to a full grown man
Before you’re big enough to hold me
I will hold you, if I can

The Power of the Truth

How many times have you been to an event and been disappointed with the keynote speakers? Perhaps you’ve sat through five presentations and only one has stood out. Feels like a waste of time eh?

On Saturday, I had the rare experience of compering an event where every speaker was first class. It was the Arise Summit 2019, organised by the fantastic Aduke Onafowokan – founder of The Sister Sister Network, an organisation dedicated to empowering women into leadership.

But what was it about these speakers that made them so memorable? It was one simple word – truth. The Summit itself had a core theme of leadership and as each speaker shared their thoughts on what it takes to become, and remain an effective leader, they were open about their challenges, their history and the obstacles they had to overcome.

These obstacles included sexual abuse, eating disorders, bereavement, life-threatening illnesses and negative parental and societal expectations. But they weren’t presented as ‘poor me’. They were simply part of their story, a point in their life, part of their truth. Hearing these people talk was the perfect antidote to seeing airbrushed lives online. No feelings of inadequacy – just inspiration and possibilities.

And what about my truth? It came in the form of throwing myself into the moment and allowing myself to enjoy being seen, to sing and to bring a bit of energy to the room. I think it was the start of something special.

If you’re looking for a compere to bring truth and humour to your next event, get in touch.

What to Expect When Your Dog Has Been Neutered

There comes a point in most pet-owners lives when the topic of neutering comes up. If you have a dog, this comes the moment you set foot out the door for puppy’s first walk. Passers-by will coo before launching into the following standard questions:

  • What breed is it?
  • Is it a boy or a girl?
  • How old is it?
  • When are you going to have it neutered?

This exchange made me query the assertion that “Having a dog is like having a baby” because whilst the first three questions are often trotted out when you’re pushing a pram, the final one is definitely not something you should ask a new parent.

Anyhow, we took the decision to have our 18 month old Vizsla ‘done’ on account of the fact that we didn’t plan to breed from him and didn’t want the singularly terrifying spectacle of our dog getting stuck inside a lady dog. Especially as we never go on a walk with a bucket of cold water which is what I seem to remember you have to use to separate animals that are locked together.

So we booked the boy in and after a few hours at the vets he was ready to be collected and brought home. We were told that in no uncertain terms was he allowed to get at his stitches and to keep him as quiet as possible which is a big ask of a dog that likes to run several miles a day.

Did it work?

Now, the question that most people ask after a dog is castrated is, “Has it calmed him down?” but before we even get to that, you ought to know what can happen immediately after the operation:

Your dog will make it his life’s work to get at his ‘wound’

Never mind trying to lick his non-existent balls, what your dog wants to do is get that dressing off because it is sticky and probably a bit itchy. A Buster Collar or ‘Cone of Shame’ will work in some instances but you may also find that it makes your dog stand stock still in the middle of the living room panting and whining for hours. Which will make you feel bad and so you will buy an inflatable collar instead.

The only issue with inflatable collars is that if your dog, like my Vizsla, has a long neck, then he’s going to bend it gracefully and give himself a good licking. You will wake up one morning to find that the dressing has disappeared and quite possibly been eaten. You will think he may also have eaten his stitches and made the wound worse which will cause you to photograph your dog’s genitals on your phone to send to the vets (and thank your lucky stars that you don’t sync your photos to the cloud). The vet’s response will be “You need to come in for another dressing.” 

Belt and braces (aka the dog babygro)

The special dog outfit

While explaining your situation to the vets they may say to you, “Hey, why don’t you try a dog babygro? They’re only £30.00”. You will think this is a small price to pay for getting a night’s sleep but when you put it on your dog you may find (as I did) that the fit is perfect across the chest but the back is baggy, leaving his nether regions exposed to fresh air. And his tongue. The way around this issue is to bunch the back up into a ‘top knot’ which you will then secure with a hairband thus making the fit at chest and hips very nice indeed.

As nice as it looks, your dog may decided that he does not want to wear an inflatable collar and a babygro and will rub himself vigorously along the outside of your house so that he puts holes in every item of protective clothing that you have shoehorned him into. That said there is something satisfying about another species discovering the complexity and discomfort of clothing with poppers.

What happens next?

Poor dog - a vest AND a collar!

What happens next is that you will discover there is a reason people say that dogs are intelligent because do you know what your dog can do? Not only can he extend his graceful neck, he can also figure out how to hitch one of his hind legs into the babygro which will stretch it enough that he can get right in there and make another dressing disappear.

Eventually, after several more dressings your dog will finally, finally, be allowed to resume his normal activities. And then this will happen:

Your dog will injure himself

Because your dog has been on restricted walks for around two weeks he is going to go absolutely batshit the minute you decide that he’s ok to go on an off-lead walk. This will involve him catching a dew claw which will bleed quite a lot. But this is not as bad as you initially anticipated and it will fall off, healing up rather nicely on its own meaning that you can resume your walks and runs because frankly you could do with the exercise too given that you’ve tripled your calories in the run up to Christmas. But it turns out that you’ve been a little too confident because:

Your dog will injure himself. Again 

I'm sorry, I didn't realise that having your foot bandaged was part of being neutered.

This your dog will save for a peaceful Sunday morning when you have enjoyed reading the papers. And when it costs more than you even want to think about to visit the vets. He will come in all happy and waggy from a lovely long walk in the countryside and as he makes his way across the kitchen floor you’ll think, “Oh, the dog’s paw is bleeding.” After letting the dog settle because it might be a little cut in his pad, he’ll trot up to you and leave some puddles of blood on the floor which he will then proceed to lick up (at least he tried to be tidy about it). Closer inspection will reveal that it’s a rather large cut indeed. That will need general anaesthetic and stitches. And no walks for 10 days. And a dressing that he will want to bite off. In fact will bite off.

It says "no chew". LIES!

This removal of the dressing will necessitate a quick fix involving:

  • a sanitary towel
  • some vet bandages
  • a rubber glove

You will then need another visit to the vets for a proper dressing and to buy a new buster collar which miraculously he will tolerate this time. You will think this is amazing because it means that you can leave the house without fear of him taking off his dressing and re-opening the wound.

Lunch and a false sense of security

With buster collar #2 in place you will go ahead with a lovely lunch you have planned with your husband where you’ll want to drum your feet on the floor because the food is so delicious and you’ll have grown up conversation and some decent wine.

You’ll get home all happy and giggly only to discover that because of the magical buster collar the dog couldn’t see where his water bowl was and instead of putting his face into it to have a nice drink he’ll have put his bloody foot in it. Which means you have to go back to the vets for the second dressing in the space of a day. And sleep with your dog overnight because you’re petrified that he’ll figure out how to get around the buster collar which means that he will lie on your chest and place his cone head directly on yours creating an extremely uncomfortable, sweaty sleeping arrangement.

One woman and her dog

I don’t know what happens next except that we are booked in again on Monday for another review. We’ll see if he can keep his dressing on / clean / dry until then. So, to return to the initial question of, “Does castration calm your dog down?”, I’ll have to come back to you on the answer.


Want to hear some stand up about the joys of dog ownership? I’ve got a ton of material – check out my page for more info.

Five Steps to Demystifying Self-Publishing

Apparently we’ve all got a book inside us but if we only try the traditional publishing route, the saying that “many of us will die with the song still inside us” becomes true. Self-publishing remedies this, and has opened the door for many more of us to share our stories without the pain of endless rejection letters (and in the often reported case of ‘Fifty Shades’, without a decent copy editor) but even then it can seem like a dark art. What platform should you use? How long does it take? In fact, how do you even get started?

As someone who has been through the process four times, and whose self-published work has led to stand up, speaking engagements and a tour of WI groups, I thought I’d share my top five insights followed by an invitation to join me at a workshop that will get you started in earnest. Let’s go:

1. Write about what you know – and love

So you want to write a book – but what will it be about? My initial list included a guide to freelancing, a children’s book, and a semi-autobiographical story about a group of teenagers. Each of these books were started, but only one was completed, and that was after I published Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One – a collection of essays on life, parenting and fighting with technology that started out on my blog, a place where I love to write. Writing a book is a long process – and you’ll need enthusiasm way beyond publication if you’re ever going to sell a copy.

2. Define your audience

You know how z-list celebrities end up with their ghost-written autobiographies taking up acres of space in WH Smith? How does this happen when they’re not even half as interesting / talented / charming as you?! It’s because they’ve already got an audience. You may not like Made in Chelsea but the publishers love the money in the pockets of the millions of people that tune in. The people that you know are the first people that will buy your book.

3. Bring in some professionals

Even traditionally published works come with the occasional spelling mistake (once you’ve hired someone to proof your work, you’ll spot them everywhere) – but this is not an excuse for you to put out a shabby piece of copy. If you want a book you can be proud of you’re going to need to invest in someone to check your spelling and grammar.

You also need to invest in someone to design the cover. There is no shame in self-publishing, but if you use a standard template for your cover then you may end up with a book you are ashamed of. Your words could be the most beautiful thing in the world but no-one loves an ugly book. Fact.

4. Decide on your platform

Approach it with a commercial hat on. If you want to keep your costs minimal then Amazon is a great place to start, I’ve used it for three books – including my most recent, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Rides Again’. If you want a more tactile experience, or if you’re publishing something with pictures then try a local print house – I did this with ‘I Need a Wife‘ because it is a slim volume and I wanted to be precise about the colour and weight of the cover. If you need more help (and you have money to invest) then you could try a company that offers publishing services that will help you with everything from printing through to marketing such as Blurb.

5. Promote, promote, promote

I could have put this at the beginning. If you’re smart, you will have built up some anticipation about the fact that you’re going to publish a book. Telling people that you’re in the process of writing will keep you motivated to up your wordcount, and enable you to invite people to join you in the countdown to the big ‘ta-da’! If you’re going to put your words out there, then you need to feel comfortable promoting them. After all, by the end of the process you’ll have sweated, fretted and quite possibly invested a fair amount of money in making your book come to life. Use it as an excuse to celebrate and don’t be shy to ask people to buy a copy!

Still want to do it?

If this has motivated you to bring your story into the world, and you’d like to learn in detail what it takes to self-publish, come along to my workshop on 1st February 2019 – you can find full information and tickets here.

Owning Up to My Mistakes

A conversation with my sister turned to talk of mistakes and being afraid; she had an upcoming university visit and was worrying about the journey there: what if she missed her bus, got the wrong train, couldn’t find the right room, or missed the start of the tour? What if her childcare arrangements fell through and she couldn’t go at all?

I’m 18 years older than my sister so, by her estimation, I’m a lot more ‘together’ than she is. More confident. Less likely to make a mistake. And right now, I guess that’s true. I don’t fear the fickle nature of public transport or panic about new experiences but I do remember how it feels to be in your early twenties when your skin is altogether a lot thinner and the world feels much bigger. I thought, therefore, the best thing I could do was share with her some of the mistakes I made when I was about her age. At the time, they were embarrassing, stressful and a little bit upsetting. In hindsight, I found them pretty funny and I thought you might do too. So here goes:

The Cup of Tea Mistake

I am 20 years old and I have never made a cup of tea. And now I’m being asked to make one for the visiting Regional Sales Director who is Very Important. I am a coffee drinker and coffee is easy: a teaspoon of granules, some hot water and a bit of milk. Oh yes, and a couple of teaspoons of sugar (this is back when everybody had sugar). Tea is an entirely different proposition. Tea for the Regional Sales Director who is Very Important is terrifying.

I know how it starts: bag in cup then pour your boiling water in and leave it for a bit, but for how long? The Regional Sales Director says he’d like it “Builders”. What does that even mean? How do builders like their tea? With cement in?

I stand and stare at the kettle before asking the office manager for help who (and I will be forever grateful to him for this – cheers Spencer) doesn’t rip into me but instead calmly talks me through the process. Before going off to tell the whole of the front office and then standing in the doorway to watch me make my presentation.

Tea made, I proudly walk from the kitchenette into the back office (which is attached to a warehouse and has no natural daylight and yet is where the management team choose to sit), and as I cross the carpeted floor…. I fail to hold the cups level and spill tea all the way from the door right to the regional sales director’s feet. Like Hansel & Gretel and their breadcrumbs, a trail of tea leads me past the laughing office manager and back to the kitchenette where I begin the process again. At least I know how to make it this time.

The Cup of Coffee Mistake

I am 23 years old and going to visit a customer. I have driven there in a company car – a real life company car! I have a very nice leatherette Filofax of which I am inordinately proud, I like to think its says I’m “serious”.

The meeting with the customer is in his office and he has something much nicer than my Filofax – a real leather, padded ‘conference ring binder’ with many pen holders, zipped compartments and slots for business cards. If there were a game of Top Trumps based on stationery accessories, he would definitely win. It lies open on his desk, ready for him to make notes based on all the very interesting things that I will have to say about structured cabling (hahaha!).

Before I can wow him with my knowledge of CAT5 however, he asks me if I would like a drink. I am tempted to request builders tea to see if his secretary knows how to make it but instead stick with what I know – coffee, white with two sugars.

The coffee arrives. It gets placed on the desk and as I reach across to take the handle I knock it everywhere. I watch as a tide of hot brown liquid rapidly makes its way across his desk towards the waiting leather ring binder. Mortified? You bet. Thankfully his reactions are lightening fast and his precious executive accoutrement is saved. However, the coffee does meet with a yellow legal pad which begins the process of mopping up before we can even grab a paper towel.

Like my manager before, the customer did not make fun of me right away, instead he offered tissues and said “It doesn’t matter”. When I returned to my office, I had to relive the whole damn thing again as my sales manager wanted to know how the visit had gone. My penance was to make him a cup of coffee every day for the next week.

The Passport Mistake

We’ll rewind a little bit here – this occurs not long after the ‘Cup of Tea’ incident. I’m 21 years old and it is 4am on a very cold December morning. There is snow on the ground and more on its way but, for now, I’m feeling warm as I am in a minibus with my colleagues from the freight forwarding company I work for. We’re all off on a jolly to Calais to buy continental lager from a hypermarket and maybe some French cheeses – the excitement!

Despite the early hour we’re in good spirits and there is plenty of banter to be had. Talk of the night before and what the rest of the day might bring when someone pipes up “Alright then, who’s forgotten their passport?”.

Passport? What do you mean I need my passport? Somewhere in my mixed up mind I seemed to think that I didn’t need mine….because we are part of the EU. Ah. It is fair to say that my comment of “I have!” quietened even the birds as they began their dawn chorus. My fellow minibus occupants looked at me as if I’d told them that….well, that I thought I didn’t need my passport.

Taking the collective decision that they can’t take me all the way to Dover because that would give me a stupidly long journey home, and they can’t take me home because they’ll miss the ferry, they drop me off in a village. I don’t think it was too far from our starting point but it’s 5am and there isn’t any passing traffic so I’m going to have to walk. Which is what I do until I come across a knight in shining armour – or rather the knight in a battery powered vehicle that is the milkman. He kindly drops me at the train station and when I finally get back home, I am in tears; a mixture of embarrassment, exhaustion and freezing cold. Fortunately my landlady is also a friend – she holds fire on laughing at me until she’s made me a much needed cup of tea.

The next day I discover that my colleagues’ minibus broke down on the way home and they were stuck in it for seven hours. They may have had their passports but they didn’t have any heating……

Sharing these memories with my sister made her feel a bit less worried and gave us both a good laugh – the conversation was far more useful than me offering her advice. It also served as a reminder that at a time when social media leans towards the celebratory, sometimes it can do us good to own up to our mistakes.

Doggy Style

What do you do when your life has got a bit simpler?  You know, when the kids are able to take care of most things themselves and you feel like you have established some semblance of a routine.  You get a dog, that’s what you do. 

Well…you try to get a dog.  We tried to do the right thing and go down the Dog’s Trust route only to be met with a sea of cute little doggy faces, each above the legend that read “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 16”.  So we bought a puppy and almost a year on from that fateful day I thought I’d share with you a few observations so far……

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe

You see the woman in that picture?  That’s me.  On holiday.  That’s what my holiday photos now look like: waterproof coat that packs into its own pocket.  Waterproof trousers that have an elasticated waist and no pockets so you can’t actually get at anything.  Walking boots – WALKING BOOTS!  I put this on and thought “oh my christ, is this actually my life?”.  Even the dog is staring at me as if to ask “Are you really going out dressed like that?”.

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe – part 2

You see the woman in that picture?  That is also me.  In it, I am wearing a coat that I liked very much.  It is from North Face and is extremely warm.  It has now become my “Dog Coat” and sports a stain that I cannot figure out but which makes me look like I have been lactating.  It could be from the last time that the dog had his worming treatment at the vets and then rubbed himself all over my jacket…

You may also notice that I look tired in the picture.  Having a dog makes you tired.  Especially when you get a dog that needs a lot of exercise.  Or one that wakes up early in the morning.  Or one that does both.

Having a dog does terrible things to your house

You know those big plastic tub/bucket things everyone has – useful for transporting garden rubbish / filling with kids toys / filling with ice & beer (hurry up summer!) – well they’re also very good for putting in massive holes that your dog has dug in the garden.  He has stopped digging but we are yet to fix his landscaping.  I fear that we’ve left it too long and it’s now become a ‘feature’.

Our hallway – when not bearing muddy paw prints – looks like Depeche Mode have dropped round for tea.  It contains a variety of leads, collars and harnesses.  Let me tell you a little bit about them:

  • The classic harness – sports a ‘handle’ so that you can grab your dog as you vainly try to get him back on the lead.
  • The Halti harness – claims to “stop pulling instantly” – does it f**k.  My dog could use it to pull a car up the road in a World’s Strongest Man competition.
  • The ‘Gentle Leader’ face harness – also claims to “stop pulling instantly”.  It actually does.  What it doesn’t tell you is that it will cause your dog to every now and then stop and rub its face along the ground in an attempt to get the thing off.  
  • Normal lead – padded grip – nice 🙂 Now held together with gaffer tape because it got caught on the velcro of my Dog Coat and all the stitches started to come out.
  • Halti training lead – longer than a normal lead.  Bloody uncomfortable.  Takes a layer of skin off your hand if your dog pulls.
  • Extendable lead – never, ever allow your dog to say hello to another dog on an extendable lead.  You will end up in some kind of Twister manoeuvre with the other owner.

The stairs is a mixed bag.  We are back to having a stair gate.  I have been very earnestly informed that “it’s entirely possible to train your dog not to go upstairs, don’t you know” but after spending five weeks trying to combine working from home with instructing a dog that he may not go upstairs, I found the five minute installation of a stair gate the equivalent of a magic wand.  Also, nobody leaves their shit on the stairs anymore because the gate seems to act like a magical force field – double result!

But why am I telling you any of this?  Because if you are going to get a dog you need to know that:

Having a dog does terrible things to your bank balance

I have considered asking my customers to pay me in Pets at Home vouchers.  Toys last two days, food lasts two minutes, leads need replacing and pet insurance is the one insurance that you will without a doubt need to use.  You will need to buy terrible clothes to walk the dog in and a grille to keep your dog safe in the car oh and a crate that your dog will refuse to sleep in past the age of 4 months and a rug to replace the one that he chewed a hole in when he was a tiny pup.  You may also like to spend money on dog training which will be by turns enlightening and maddening – some lessons you will come away from feeling smug and others you will leaving feeling like a twat.

And just when you get to the point when you think, “Why the bloody hell did we do this?” – this happens:

and you realise that for all the terrible clothes, terrible marks to the house and the terrible impact to your bank balance, they’re completely and utterly worth it 🙂


Want to hear some stand up about the ‘joys’ of having a dog? Please book me – I need to get out without having to put on waterproof trousers!

Bears, Ancient Persia and Making the Boat go Faster

What do you call a group of graduates?  For some, the preferred collective noun is “bunch”.  This could be an unconscious way of putting them in their place as they enter a business, or a way to reflect presumed youthfulness, energy and vitality….”bunch” has a bouncy feel when you say it.

Whatever the reason, in collectively grouping people you serve them up as a whole; a many-headed mass with one personality, one way of thinking and one set of behaviours.  Put this group of graduates in the same business and you have a person potentially under two layers of varnish in the eyes of others before they’ve even introduced themselves.

Unless you run a storytelling workshop for them, which I had the pleasure of doing this week.

A process of discovery

We spent the day teasing out and structuring the story behind how each of the team had joined the organisation, in the process creating a LinkedIn post and a pitch that could be delivered without PowerPoint. If you thought you’d get “went to school, went to uni, joined a grad scheme” you couldn’t be more wrong.

Tales of the unexpected

In all, I heard fifteen unique stories that ranged from a lyrical tale about having the coding skills of a bear, to an enlightening journey along the information highways of Ancient Persia.  My mind rowed across the room as coxing skills were used to show us how collective tactical and strategic efforts would make the business boat go faster.  A teacher who didn’t ‘do’ tech had become tech, sales skills were honed in the family sewing machine business and a year in Germany resulted in life changes more profound than ‘gap-yah’ tattoos and the wearing of bracelets.

A great day in the office

Spending the day getting to know these people reminded me that I have found a way to make a career out of doing things that I love; working with words, getting to know people and helping others with their storytelling. We had fun, we worked hard and at one point we laughed until we cried (something I am yet to master in my stand-up performances, perhaps there is a message there….).

You’d better watch out

I’ll leave it to the team to share their stories when they’re ready, but as soon as they do I’ll be re-posting them on my LinkedIn timeline.  Watch out for bears, Ancient Persia and making the boat go faster.