Reflections on 2015

Another year has passed, and for me it’s been a year of firsts: the first year of living abroad, the first working for a PR agency, and also the first as an engaged lady. As I sit here reflecting on the last twelve months I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Many people do not have the wonderful things I have: loving and unswervingly supportive family, fiance and friends, a good job, a great apartment in a city that I have come to love, and the means (well, almost – thanks to the expense of our 2016 wedding this point is a work in progress) to pursue the lifetime of adventure that I crave.

Many of this year’s events have highlighted the shocking disparity between those of us who have, essentially, ‘lucked out’ in life’s lottery, and those who have never even had the opportunity to buy a ticket. I have been particularly affected by the refugee crisis, which, as residents of Brussels, has been literally on our doorstep – both in Brussels and in the ‘jungle’ of Calais that we pass by so regularly on our Eurostar trips home to visit friends and family. How easily we Europeans take for granted our freedom of movement, when our brothers and sisters from Syria and Sudan have nothing but doors slammed in their faces when they try to pass through borders and seek escape from persecution and a better life for themselves and for their families. Their plight is heartbreaking, and the ability of so many to turn the other cheek nothing less than horrifying.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sometimes, just as I am about to despair of humanity altogether, something will come along to restore my faith. And the many ordinary people who have been galvanized by the refugee crisis into coming together to help have done just that. I have been following in particular the activities of The Worldwide Tribe, a fantastic group of young people from the UK who have been documenting the experiences of those in the Calais jungle, and in the process raising money to help improve their situation. Such dedication and commitment to this important cause is awe-inspiring, and goes to show that anyone can make a positive difference in the world, if only they have the drive and determination to do so.

I hope that those for whom 2015 was challenging will find fresh perspective, hope and happiness in 2016. And for everyone else, keep doing what you’re doing! May your year be filled with peace and love.

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Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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The Engagement Party

Having announced their engagement several weeks previously, Zachary Pontington-Smythe and Kazia Waverley-Bell are welcoming guests to the predictably lavish party that their respective families have funded in celebration of such an auspicious occasion. “I was starting to worry you’d never make an honest woman of her,” laughs an elderly aunt as she is greeted by Zachary and shown through to the main reception room by a member of the waiting staff. “No need to worry, Auntie,” Zachary replies, “I was just biding my time.” He smiles at his fiancé who, he notices, looks resplendent in the inordinately expensive vintage flapper dress and tiara she has purchased especially for this occasion, though he can’t help but feel the family jewels festooned about her ample cleavage elicit a rather unfortunate Christmas tree effect. She beams back and continues greeting their guests with almost childlike enthusiasm.

An hour into the party and the adult guests are well lubricated with the magnums of champagne that have been brought up from the Pontington-Smythe family vault. A vodka luge is attracting significant attention in the vast hallway, whilst the children are more taken with the chocolate fondue fountain outside on the terrace. Nobody notices Kazia’s polite refusal of a second glass of champagne, nor the way she rests her hand on her slightly burgeoning belly. Nobody, that is, except for Zachary’s eagle eyed and ancient grandmother, who sits in a corner of the room like a stone gargoyle, watching.

By ten o’clock the festivities have escalated to parlour games and sherry. Kazia has settled on a comfortable lounge chair from where she has a perfect view of the assembly. “Where’s Zachary?” someone asks, and soon the murmur passes through the room like a ripple on an otherwise calm sea. Nobody, it seems, has seen Zachary for quite some time. Indeed clarification of his whereabouts is fast becoming the most popular game of the evening. The children, in particular, jump to attention from their post-sugar rush slump and shoot off in different directions in search of their elusive host.

When, some twenty minutes later, Zachary and the parlour boy are hauled up from the cellar in an alarming state of undress and are confronted by a room full of speechless people, Kazia obligingly bursts into tears and flees the room. But not before the stone gargoyle in the corner has witnessed her coquettish wink at the drinks waiter, and his protective glance towards her stomach. “And they say the aristocracy are boring,” the old woman laughs to herself. “What utter tosh.”

What makes you tick?

Recent “research” from the folk over at Facebook posits more people see our posts than we might think. I put the word research in speech marks because this comes at a time when Facebook is being criticised for limiting the reach of peoples’ posts to force them to pay for promoted posts. The research in question, therefore, could be taken to be a poorly disguised and somewhat unscrupulous attempt to generate positive PR in response to the media backlash.

But whatever the reason, the research has got me thinking about the reach and impact of my own posts on social media, and indeed my blog. I must confess to feeling a sense of deflation when I see the number of views on my posts declining, and a rush of excitement when they begin to climb again. When someone new follows my blog I beam from ear to ear. Why? Because it means there are people out there who actually like what I write and who, rather than briefly scanning posts before deleting them, want to read them with some degree of regularity.

But who are my followers, and those who like to read my musings frequently? What drives them? What makes them tick? And what is it about my writing that keeps them coming back for more? It strikes me now I think about it that thus far in my writing experiment it’s been almost entirely one-sided. What I’d love to know is what my readers would like more of, what they’d like less of, and generally how I can write in a way that’s more agreeable to them.

It’s fair to say we writers crave acknowledgement, and the best form of acknowledgement – to my mind, at least – is feedback. But the online world operates in a similar way to the real world when it comes to levels of active involvement. Humans fall roughly into two categories; introverts and extroverts. I say roughly fall into, because it’s rare to find someone who would claim to be entirely introvert or entirely extrovert – we usually all exhibit both persuasions from time to time.

This brings me back to the Facebook research. I think it’s probably true that we engage more people than we think when we post things on the internet – because a lot of those who read it aren’t inclined to comment or to actively engage with the content. They are passive observers, perhaps because they’re introverts whose nature isn’t to wade in and shout about their thoughts and feelings but rather to consider them and process them privately. Them not engaging may not, therefore, mean they aren’t enjoying the content, but rather that they prefer to enjoy it from afar.

This rationale (irrational as it may well be) makes me feel better about not having lots of feedback on my writing. What it fails to do is make me any less curious about who my readers are and what they most like to read.

So if you’re reading this and feel inclined to drop me a line about what makes you tick, I’d really love to hear from you…

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Letting go

This afternoon I did a presentation to a group of volunteer fundraisers about ‘Don’t wait until you’re certain,’ the campaign I helped to manage to promote the organisation’s adult helpline service. The first burst of the campaign was handed to me to manage by my outgoing manager three months after I joined the charity, in March last year. To say it was a stressful experience to devise and execute a PR plan for a national media campaign in under a month would be an understatement, but when the launch turned out to be a huge success and contacts to the charity about serious cases of child abuse increased by 16% I was delighted that the blood, sweat and tears had paid off.

Fast forward ten months to January this year and it was time to do it all over again. With a bigger budget to play with we were able to pay for TV advertising as well as digital, which gave a much bigger reach. As before my role was to manage the PR for the campaign, which included the development of a content plan across the charity’s website and social media channels to drive engagement with the campaign messaging. I even wrote my first film script – for a message of support recorded by the rather lovely actor, Dominic West (though sadly I didn’t get to meet him in person).

This time around, with the benefit of TV advertising and a sponsored trend on Twitter, we’ve seen a 46% increase in referrals to the helpline – an uplift that has stayed constant for the duration of the campaign. Social media engagement has also been through the roof as a result of the campaign, which has been exciting to see.

In truth it choked me up delivering a presentation on something that I’ve been so close to for the past year but which I will soon have to walk away from. Yet despite my impending redundancy, this campaign is something I will always feel enormously proud to have been involved with. I know that wherever I go next I will always feel a glow of satisfaction that its success was in no small part down to my contribution.

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