Saturday, 28 July 2012

Return of the hamster and entertaining a school-age child

SEO is like a rollecoaster ride, everybody is on a steep learning curve.
Expertise comes and goes at the beat of an algorithm
 (from my new SEO blog)

Hello there,
it has been a proper sunny summery week, so excuse me for not blogging! Schools are out and it's a tad difficult to continue working with a five year old at home all day who expects endless excitement. My daughter's school excels in stimulating creativity and love of learning through a huge number of structured activities, but as there is just me and her dad, both trying to squeeze some work here and there - keeping her occupied and happy is a daily challenge. 

So how do I cope? Well, since it's summer I can easily wake up at dawn (or before) every day, so I can clock in some work before my daughter wakes up. Trouble is, I'm dead at 8pm and fall asleep on the sofa after I have eaten my dinner. My partner had to tap me now and then last night so I could watch the Olympics' opening ceremony as I was dozing off every ten minutes. I eventually went to bed after 1am, woke up at 4.30, then decided today I should sleep till at least 6. I have been down here for an hour and half now checking my emails and applying for an interesting local job. I still have work to do, but as I put in some hours at weekends, I will catch up today or tomorrow. 

I have resisted the urge to book Michela into a holiday club, with her father around, it doesn't make sense and it's such a long day from 8.30 till 6pm! I have booked a few craft parties, a couple of hours here and there so she can enjoy building things and making jewellery. She has already a box of treasures with all her makes and is looking forward to the school's show and tell coming this autumn as she will have things to boast about. Aren't children competitive? We played a game of snake and ladders the other day and she was very angry when I won. Her father lets her cheat or give her unfair advantage to humour her. 

We are teaching her about money, she has a money box and she likes to get money out and go to the newsagent to buy cheap sweets (love hearts is her favourite as she can now read the messages). We also visit charity and cut-price stores for inexpensive toys. Yesterday she got a toy unicorn and an inexpensive Hello Kitty PJ courtesy of Aldi. My partner then found a cheap paddling pool at Asda (unusually for a man, he likes going around shops and is an addict of B and M, the new cut-price store in our area).

So I was quite taken with this article that landed in my inbox, with the appealing headline: 20 kids' gift under a fiver. To read it, click here.

Enjoy the sun while it lasts! 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

SEOtastic and spoof ads

SEO is like a rollecoaster ride, everybody is on a steep learning curve.
Expertise comes and goes at the beat of an algorithm

As if I didn't have enough on my hands between work, raising a child and volunteering, I have now five blogs. The latest is all about SEO (click SEO to view), in plain words and sharing what I've learnt/I'm learning with a few advanced tips thrown in (marked as DEEP END WARNING).

I hope I will surf over a big wave with this one as I really want to make remote working work on a full-time basis. If not, I will have to get a job, now that my daughter is in school. But what about all my volunteering commitments? Will I have time for those?

Hope to see you there, if you don't have the time, just follow @simonecas to get my #TweetsforSEO.

Happy reading!

PS: here is a spoof ad I created for a fun copywriting challenge.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Remote working: Freelance Parents Network

Freelance Parents Network

In the spirit of promoting remote and flexible working initiatives, I’m blogging about the Freelance Parents Network (FPN), a kind of introduction agency (but not an employment one) run by freelance parent and writer Rosalind Kent. At present, posting a profile and/or job is free, which is good news for small businesses. 

If you are a parent working freelance, all you have to do is to submit a bio/CV to As this is a general job portal, you can be working in any business/sector, whether you are a qualified hairdresser, party planner, IT professional, accountant or freelance writer. 

The FPN will match you to a suitable vacancy and/or you will receive emails and tweets of various opportunities. If these alerts won’t be any good to you, think of your circle of friends... you might know somebody just right for the job. The freelance jobs offered are home based or inhouse. I'd have liked to see more of a remote stance, but I suppose it's sensible to cover all the bases.

Let’s hope that the original geographical focus (Kent area) will spread to cover the whole of the UK - so far there have been a few vacancies advertised in other counties, which is encouraging.

Remote working: what is the employers' problem?

Sorry, can't stop to chat, too busy even for virtual watercooler

Here I'm again, banging on about remote working. I have been posting about it on this blog, tweeted sarcastic comments (i.e. Join the digital revolution chained to a desk in Central London), ranted about it in various professional forums, but I'm going nowhere fast. After working on three huge marketing campaigns for a global brand, my copywriting career is stalling again. Yes, I do have a bread and butter editorial job that I can do remotely but where are my challenges?

Why nobody cares that I write award-winning copy, one of my newsletters won a regional award, I have heaps of experience.... I know why, I live out of Oz, in the sticks (not that far, though, I can still take a train), i.e. not in London. When I left London I kind of knew that it could have been career suicide but I thought, surely this digital lark will help me out? Surely I can raise my daughter somewhere with a higher quality of life? My partner too, he hoped that it would happen, that we would find local jobs or at least use remote technology to work from home. The reality is that he had to commute to London on 99% of cases and I could only do local jobs inhouse (there aren't that many and lots of competition for anything, think flexible admin jobs with 60 applications, some from people with PhDs).

So I decided to try to sell SEO services as I'm told content is king (and I got the content crown back from Mouse Converter just in case) and it's building up but I'm still dissatisfied by employers' attitudes to remote working. Yes, I know there are jobs that can be done only in an office, but many don't. I was particularly annoyed by a social media job at Mumsnet, a site that should be flexible due to its ethos of supporting parents, but no, they wouldn't even consider a part inhouse and part remote arrangement.

I tell you, my wheel was spinning faster and faster when I got that reply via email. So if you are raising a child with partial (or none) childcare, what do you do? Pay for full-time childcare, never see your child and work on the grindstone doing a job you can do wholly or partly from home? Yes, that's it. And it's not only women who are not happy about it, men aren't. I hear it from many men here in Cambridge (including my partner), but sadly there aren't that many flexible jobs.

So with face-to-face conference calls (or Hangouts for free), email, remote access to company networks, the humble phone... Isn't this enough to breath on an employee's neck? Because that's what I suspect it is, it's about control not productivity or being one of the team. Yes, did I tell you that I'm paid to read excerpts of international business research? Well, I can tell you that misery management techniques don't increase profits, there is research that proves it. Job satisfaction makes for higher profits, so flexible working should be a winner... And if you are a doubting Thomas, this research is based on case studies, it's not pure theory.

Come on, employers, enter the brave new 21st century and let your employees work remote, it will save you desk costs, less energy spend (less carbon overall) and you will get motivated employees. And despite employers' perceptions, homeworkers are more productive because there are less distractions. See how much work you get done in an office and compare with homeworking where you have zero commuting time loss and no distractions from colleagues or external callers (yes, the postman might right the bell to deliver a parcel, but that's it).

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Friday, 6 July 2012

Country rat, city rat... A trip down memory lane

Pssst, did you hear? Marketing conference in London says "Content  is king"
So I got my crown back from Mouse Converter

Yesterday this country rat went to London for training. This course is not work related, so ignore the hamster - as usual it's doing its own thing. Scroll down for some amazing photos, courtesy of my Pana Lumix (I bought that, in case you wonder, it was not a freebie). All these photos were taken on the hoof, one chance to capture the vibe and no retakes!

Snap happy from King's Cross to Camden

King's Cross area - such a change! It used to be pretty scuzzy.
One of my friends got mugged by a drug addict at 6pm
I lived in London for over 13 years, mainly in East London (respect E17!) but worked all around the city as my media clients were scattered from East to West, from North to South... 

I arrived at King's Cross, which looked impressive, even under a leaden sky. My course is in Camden, which is a borough I know very well as I worked there for years, mostly at Emap (now erm Bauer) and Bauer (still Bauer). So I walked up and down the streets from Mornington Crescent up to Chalk Farm in my lunch hour, after work for years and years. 

See that rotunda? It's a terrace where I spent a few moments away
from dusty manuscripts (mostly XVII cent)
Back to the present, I walked from King's Cross to Camden via the British Library, where I researched my thesis while at uni and subsequently my novel on alchemy (still unfinished). This building costed the taxpayer a pretty packet but it's worth every penny.

I walked past the Francis Crick Institute (in construction). Every time I hear this name (often in Cambridge) I feel uneasy and angry because of the way Rosalind Franklin was treated. Another woman written 
out of HIStory as feminists justly say (if you are a skeptic, read an unbiased view here). So unfair, especially since she died of cancer before her contribution could be appreciatedLesson No.1  for women scientists: lock your research away and wear the key on your body. And while I'm ranting, I'm also angry about the way Alan Turing was treated, too.

The entrance, a lovely piazza that now boasts a cafe

I love that bench, not sure about the ball - for me reading has never been a chore

The cafe, built around the King's Library,  a tower filled with precious, rare books

Up those stairs... The current access to the reading rooms
Francis Crick Institute

From thievery (aka unathorised use) to toilets:
a classy cloakroom at the British Library

The first time I saw that chair was in the 1980s, it was in natural pine, now is shabby chic

This stuff is new - wasn't there in 2006, the last year I worked in the area. Or I forget?

A nice stall, touristy but not tacky

Where does all this ironwork come from? It wasn't there... it looks old... great repros?

Girly, vintage and quirky display

This stuff wasn't there in 2006 either, it looks great, though

Still in Camden, I haven't posted a holiday pic by mistake

So atmospheric but no takers for this cafe

Vintage cavalcade, every decade in harmony

Irresistible bench, full of Eastern promise

The entrance/exit with one more iron statue
What??? Well, if you want to meet a Bauer journalist "off the record",
that's where many shop for lunch

Wasn't that grey building the home of breakfast TV and then MTV?
What happened to the eggs?

A variety of styles: from Victorian to punk

Mornington crescent calling: the ex cigar factory where Emap used to be.
Cross the road to admire the giant Egyptian cats (I hope they are still there).

More eclectic clothing choices

This building might have been there in 2006 but this area was pretty dire in the 1980s

Buildings are getting more outrageous, some of these fronts were there in
the 1980s but many were added later on

By the lock... This man has a very strange voice and plenty of
punters stop to sample his chicken

Camden lock, you can walk all the way to Regent's Park (if I remember correctly)

The previous week I even visited Primrose Hill and Mary Portas' charity shop. I found the indie bookshop still open, which is a miracle. I wonder if it's still run by the woman I invited to speak at a Women in Publishing's meeting many years ago. From the top of Primrose Hill you have a great view, including the wheel, the Shard... it's just lovely, pity I didn't have Pana Lumix with me. And if you get thirsty/pekish, do stop at Marine Ices (by Chalk Farm tube) - their ice cream still rocks.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Feeling like a rat... again

I'm feeling like a rat racer today albeit working from home. I have work, family commitments and digital addiction to fit into my day - no wonder I wake up at 5am most mornings!  

I blame Twitter. From an occasional user I have developed a habit now. The number of my followers is growing and it's kind of exciting, but I need to keep it under check or soon I will be tweeting trivial stuff, which I don't want to do as it's a "business" account.

I want to live in the real world! I suppose since it's raining and it's cold outside, no harm done today. Hopefully I will be back in the garden working on my cabin makeover soon. I do find manual work kind of "relaxing" for my wired mind.

Not much progress on the kitchen decluttering front, but my   series is coming along nicely.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Declutter those kitchen cupboards! Tips, stories and strategies

We might wear only a small fraction of the clothes in our wardrobes but have you considered how many kitchen aids are languishing in cupboards? I have lots, bought new or from charity shops - and I don't learn my lesson. I had a juicer that I hardly used so I freecycled it, only to buy another a few months later, lured by "easy to clean" claims. Yes, because if something is a pain to operate and clean, you won't use it again after the first few times. How do you know before you buy? Unless you can try them out, you don't.

Coffee Magic? Yes it is, no hype there
I am fully aware I'm a squirrel with aspirations to be a minimalist. So what did this clever squirrel come up with? Storage, plenty of it, so I can hide my hoard and stop my partner calling me Rebus or digging at me when we watch TV programmes about hoarders (I can't resist watching people who are worse off than me, I see it as cautionary tales - Simone get a grip or you end up with a smelly house you can't live in). And do you know what my partner's "secret" fantasy is? Nothing kinky, I assure you... to burn all my stuff in a huge bonfire, furniture included.

So I am challenging myself to declutter my kitchen cupboards. I will try every single thing and if it's no help to me but still in good condition and functioning it will go to freecycle, the charity shop or gumtree - my last resort  to get rid of things I don't want to let go is to sell them, albeit at an attractive low price.

So this week I have been using Coffee Magic. Right, I have never been a coffee drinker, more like a tea fiend but have recently started to appreciate lattes. Of course my lattes are true to my Italian heritage  -  children are given a hint of coffee in hot milk for happy biscuit dunking - we are talking 250ml of full-fat milk and less than a teaspoon of instant coffee, with two tsp of brown sugar. I was making them in the microwave (put everything cold in mug, stir, microwave on high for two minutes) and it was working pretty well, but it was not as frothy as shop-bought ones (which are too strong for my taste anyway). So I remembered the coffee thingy I had. It was bought for my mother-in-law's visits as she likes her coffee cappuccino style but because of distance we don't see her as often as we'd like so it was on a top shelf, still in its box.

So I got it down, heated the milk in the microwave, poured it inside, added sugar and coffee, then pressed the button. Very soon the froth raised - if you are following me in this experiment, don't overfill it as it might come out since the top has holes like takeaway drinking cups. Despite the phony name and dodgy graphics it's a really good product. I'm hooked and it's out on my kitchen workstation now. I get a superfrothy latte, even better than Starbucks as I'm controlling the ingredients and their proportions. The froth is incredibly thick, so no need to add cream if you are that kind of coffee drinker. Yes, it is really magic.

Please help me beat the hoarding habit by telling me your decluttering stories.... If I say "shelf" another time my partner will go mad!

PS: I watched a TV programme where they had a test with Rugby players and drinking milk eased muscle pain quicker than sports drinks! I saw an improvement in my back pain since drinking these lattes.... I know it's not an excuse but if you don't want to add coffee, you can have a caffeine-free additive or a chocolate powder...

UPDATE: I shared this post on BritMums and here is a suggestion posted there: "I haven't actually done this, but thought it seemed like a really good idea: put all your commonly used baking ingredients into a tall tupperware tub/ice cream box. So that's SR flour, plain flour, bicarb, baking soda, hundreds and thousands, vanilla essence etc and b*** it all together in a box so that when you are making something you can just pull out the box rather than keep cricking your neck to get stuff off that top shelf. It also takes up less room because things are on top of each other in the box. I keep meaning to do it, such a good idea...." Claire (

Another comment at  BritMums, with a sad twist