Looking for a new job? Don’t forget to put your best foot forward online too!

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In this brave new world of constant online activity, it’s not enough to have a strong CV and a good interview technique; you need to have a professional online presence too.

There is absolutely no point submitting a brilliant covering letter and CV if, when the HR Manager googles you (as part of their shortlisting process) they find your twitter rants, Facebook boozy photos and no LinkedIn profile (or even worse, an out of date LinkedIn profile).

I’m not saying you need to change your lifestyle, or that you should be misleading in your online presence, but you should be very aware of how your online presence could come across to others. Google your name right now. Done it? What shows up?

I am (un)lucky enough to have a relatively unusual name so all search results tend to be about me! So I need to be very careful about what I share online, therefore I tend to  have different privacy settings for different social media channels depending on how I use them/their purpose.

Here are my recommendations to make sure you are putting your best foot forward online.

This is a no-brainer. You MUST have a LinkedIn profile. With a professional photo. And up-to-date accurate information. It’s also a good idea to regularly share articles and/or post info to your LinkedIn profile as this activity ensures that your profile will show near the top of a search result of your name.

My personal preference is to keep Facebook purely as a personal channel. I tend not to ‘friend’ a lot of work colleagues  (unless they are friends as well as work colleagues of course) and treat it as a private channel to keep in touch with friends. So, to this end, I always set the privacy setting to ensure that search engines do not find my Facebook profile and therefore return it in search results linked to my name (see my previous article on Facebook privacy settings).

My twitter account is linked to my LinkedIn account and I am happy for anyone to read it. I tend to tweet about books, cats, food & drink and events (in that order!) and am not ‘political’ or controversial (so quite dull!). I am not saying that you shouldn’t be controversial on Twitter if you want to get a job, but you should be aware of how you might be perceived as a result of your tweets.

Email address
One last thing. Most people nowadays have several email accounts. Gmail is the preferred email of choice but there is still Hotmail (so old school I hear you cry!) and Yahoo, etc. It shouldn’t need saying but do please use your name rather than an ‘amusing’ moniker for your professional email address. I did a stint in recruitment and some of the email addresses that were provided to me on CVs were genuinely mind-boggling (I’m talking to you ‘sexykitten83@xxxx.com’ and ‘xxxisawesome@xxxx.com’.

In other words, use your common sense and don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be prepared to share with your work colleagues/prospective boss in real life.

Happy job hunting!

Sharing – what’s your line in the sand? Managing your Facebook privacy settings

facebook privacy

Facebook is a wonderful thing, but understanding, and keeping up with privacy setting changes, can be hard. A friend of mine recently complained about her Facebook newsfeed and how it is filled with a someone-who-shall-remain-nameless’ constant brag posts; she didn’t want to unfriend this person but was thinking of coming off Facebook as she had several friends like that and just didn’t want to see it all any more. I asked her why she didn’t just unfollow these people– my friend had no idea what I was talking about. So then I asked her what Facebook privacy settings she had – she didn’t know.

So for my friend, and for others out there who aren’t sure about how best to manage who sees what on their Facebook Profile, here is my take on the basics.

First a quick rundown on the different types of ‘audience’ as, in order to manage your privacy, you need to understand the differences between each audience’s ‘rights’ regarding what they can see of your Facebook Profile:

  • Public/Everyone (can see all your stuff)
  • Friends of Friends (as well as Friends, people who are Friends with your Friends can see your stuff)
  • Friends (only your friends can see your stuff)*
  • Only me (only you can see this stuff!)

*Friends can also be sub-divided into Friend Lists (Close Friends and Acquaintances) which means you can enable some Friends to see more/less of your Facebook Profile and posts than others. Go to your Friends page to find out more about this.

Most of the privacy and timeline settings will ask you to select an ‘audience’ for that setting, giving you the ability to control how much of your Facebook life you share, how discoverable it is, and how much others can comment on it. And if you don’t select anything, Facebook will usually default to Public or (if you are lucky) Friends, so it is important to make your own decisions for this.

You might be fine with Public seeing your posts, but only Friends being able to contact you via Facebook. Your privacy settings should be influenced by your line in the sand. How much do you want to share? Following are some scenarios to help you decide on the settings that are right for you.

Scenario 1 – Too much information!
You have a Friend who is posting content you don’t agree with/makes you uncomfortable/annoys you. But you don’t want to ‘Unfriend ‘ them. How can you stop seeing their posts?
Recommended settings
Next time this Friend posts something that shows up on your Newsfeed, click on the small grey arrow to the right of their post. This will open up a dropdown menu containing several options. Select ‘Unfollow [name of Friend]’. This means that you will stop seeing their posts but stay Friends.

Scenario 2 – I don’t want to know!
A Friend is constantly sharing posts from a news source/website/company that you have an issue with. You don’t want to Unfriend them and you like seeing posts about what they have been up to but you really don’t want to hear any more about Company X.
Recommended settings
Next time this Friend posts something from Company X that shows up on your Newsfeed, click on the small grey arrow to the right of their post. This will open up a dropdown menu containing several options. Select ‘Hide Post’. This means that you will stop seeing posts from Company X if your Friend shares them, but you will still see their other posts.

Scenario 3 – There is no such thing as too much sharing!
You are new to Facebook, and want people to be able to ‘find’ you easily. You don’t mind who posts on your timeline, and you are happy to be tagged in any photo, checked in, by friends.
Recommended privacy settings for you:
Who can see my stuff? Public
Who can contact me? Everyone
Who can look me up? Everyone
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? Yes
Recommended timeline and tagging settings
Who can post on your timeline? Friends
Review posts that friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline? Off
Who can see what others post on your timeline? Friends of friends
Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? Off

Scenario 4 – I can’t refuse their Friend request but don’t want them seeing my stuff!
A work colleague/partner of a friend/someone you don’t want to offend has sent you a Friend Request . You really can’t refuse them but you don’t want them to see your posts, etc.
Recommended settings
Accept their request but then go to ‘Manage blocking’ and add them to your ‘Restricted List’. This means that they won’t see posts on Facebook (this only works if you have the privacy setting ‘Friends’ for ‘who can see my stuff?’). They will not be notified that they have been added to this list.

Scenario 5 – I don’t want prospective employer to know how much I party!
You are going for a job interview soon and you don’t want prospective employers looking in-depth at your Facebook profile, as you like to keep your work and social lives separate.
Recommended settings
Firstly, if you haven’t already, you should definitely make sure that you have ‘No’ selected in ‘Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile?’. This means that if a prospective employer googles your name, your Facebook Profile will not be listed in the search results.

Secondly, you should check what your ‘Public Profile’ looks like currently as this will give you a guide as to whether you need to turn on some extra privacy settings.

To do this, go to ‘Timeline and tagging settings’, ‘Who can see things on my timeline?’ and then within ‘Review what other people see on your timeline’, then click on ‘View As’. This will open up the view of your Profile that ‘Everyone’ can see, in other words what is on public view.  If you think there is too much info there, you have probably left too many of your privacy settings as ‘Everyone’ and/or ‘Public’. Go back through them and check your settings (use the settings suggested for the scenarios above to help you), and then use the ‘View As’ tool again to check your Public Profile.

Scenario 6 – I am only on Facebook to keep in touch with a few people
You are on Facebook purely to be keep in touch with a select number of friends .You aren’t that interested in posting much but you like to keep up with what’s going on. You don’t want to build up your friends list that much, essentially you want to replicate your pretty tight existing social network, online.
Recommended privacy settings for you:
Who can see my stuff? Friends
Who can contact me? Friends of friends
Who can look me up? Friends
Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your Profile? No
Recommended timeline and tagging settings
Who can post on your timeline? Friends
Review posts that friends tag you in before they appear on your Timeline? On
Who can see what others post on your timeline? Friends
Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? On

I hope this article has helped you work out what your line in the sand is. If you want to know more, Facebook provides a lot of help pages about privacy settings here.

Want a pet? Go to a shelter, not a shop

I recently read about a social media campaign in the US to encourage people to adopt from animal shelters rather than buy from pet shops as apparently some people think that animals from shelters are ‘damaged’. Of course this is not very often the case. Yes abused animals (if they are lucky) are rescued and end up in shelters but the majority of animals are handed over to shelters because they have become an inconvenience or their owner’s circumstances have changed – maybe the owner can’t afford to keep them anymore or they have become too ill to look after the pet or perhaps they are relocating and can’t take the pet with them, etc.

So I thought I would share our pet adoption story. We got our cat, Baron Von Tibblesworth (Tibbles for short), from an RSPCA shelter in Melbourne back in July 2005 and he has brought us nothing but joy (well, some irritation too – he is a cat after all!) since we adopted him. He has entertained us, provided comfort to us when we are feeling tired or sick, and cuddled with us for almost 11 years now. He has travelled with us every time we have moved (we have relocated internationally three times, see a previous post) and he took all of these moves in his stride (he is very pragmatic, even by cat standards). As long as he has his cat bed, his food and access to a sunny spot he is absolutely fine! We have never regretted adopting Tibbles and we see him as one of the family.

So if you are thinking of getting a pet, do your research and make sure you include a visit to your local shelter. Visit the RSPCA UK or RSPCA Australia websites for details.


Another suitcase in another hall…

travel image
Source: http://www.freepik.com

My friends keep telling me that I should blog about international relocation as they feel it is something that I now know a lot about, having moved internationally four times in 11 years: UK to Australia in 2004; Australia to US in 2009; US to Australia  in 2011 and Australia to UK in 2015.

So having recently completed our fourth move and now the dust having settled, I thought I would share my views on the highs and lows of moving abroad and offer some (hard-earned) advice to anyone else planning to do the same.


1. Know what you are letting yourself in for
Our first move  was relatively easy for us as I am English and my husband is Australian so by the time we moved to Australia, I had visited three or four times already. But moving to North Carolina in the US was different; for one thing I wasn’t sure where it was… I had to look on a map to see where it was when we found we were moving there! And although I had been to California before, living in the South was very different. And I arrived with the wrong attitude; I assumed because we had already moved from UK to Australia and we were ‘just’ moving to another large, English-speaking country that settling in would be easy. But the similarities made the differences even more obvious! Conversely, moving back somewhere doesn’t exactly get any easier either. When we moved back to Melbourne from the US, it wasn’t as easy as I thought as we had been away almost three years and people had moved away, changed jobs, etc. so we didn’t just slot back in as I expected to.

2. Know your locked-in dates and work within their limits
Our most recent relocation was completed in just under three months from wo to go, however I would not recommend this as it was one of the most stressful times in my life! I credit myself with being incredibly organised but it was still hard as certain dates are set in stone and you just have to make everything fit around them e.g. start date in new job/collection of your furniture for shipment/travel dates for pets (to fit in with quarantine regulations)/selling cars/etc. And anything can upset the apple cart (prospective tenants dropping out on day of signing contract, tree landing on car about to be sold – yes, that really happened to us)

There are usually four or more ‘elements’ that need tracking when you move internationally:

  • yourself
  • your partner
  • your kids and/or pets
  • your furniture and belongings
  • your current home
  • your new home

Obviously there’s more than that if you have cars that you have to hand back if leased, sell (or ship) but these are the basics. And each of these elements have their own timings that need to ‘fit’ with each other. So every time we move I create a spreadsheet, listing an ‘element’ in each A, B, C column and date span down the rows e.g. Row 2: 1-Apr-15, Row 3: 2-Apr-15. Then I list the set in stone dates against each element e.g. as follows:

  • ‘move out of house’ in column ‘current home’
  • ‘vaccination for quarantine regs’ in column ‘cat’
  • ‘start new job’ in column ‘yourself’ and/or ‘your partner’
  • ‘collect keys’ in ‘your new home’

This helps me make sure that I am completing tasks in the right order and don’t forget to do something that then prevents me from hitting a deadline e.g. booking in vet visit for cat xx weeks before his flight to meet UK quarantine regulations.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that need to happen. My husband and I try to split them and take ‘chunks’ each e.g. he will sort out our new accommodation, I will liaise with local rental agency to get ours leased out. Always, always take help if it is offered. And although usually I say don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today, that way madness lies when relocating. Make a list, be aware of deadlines and if something doesn’t need to be completed/thought about until next month, then don’t! You will have more than enough to do already.

3. Think about what you really NEED to take with you
I have learnt the hard way that what you think you need when you are packing is not necessarily what you use in your new home. Try to remind yourself that everything you ship has a double cost; the cost of shipping and the cost of insuring. Weigh this up against the cost of just purchasing the item again and selling/donating to charity the original. Some people choose to store their stuff when they move abroad, we’ve never done this as within two years, for us we calculated that the storage costs would start to outstrip the value of most of the items being stored! Oh and airfreight is EXPENSIVE so think really carefully before taking up that option.

To help me whittle down the list of ‘stuff’ that we needed to pack, I developed a spreadsheet (can you tell I like spreadsheets?!) that I use every time we relocate somewhere, set up as follows:

  • Column A: Item
  • Column B: Ship
  • Column C: Sell
  • Column D: Store*
  • Column E: Donate
  • Column F: Throw

Then in column A, row by row, I list the major items in our house (room by room) e.g. ‘sofa’, ‘TV’, ‘bed’, ‘crockery’. Once everything is listed I start allocating a status to each item e.g. ‘sofa’ might be ‘ship’, ‘tv’ would be ‘sell’ (if moving to a country with different TV set up/voltage).

However don’t go too minimalist or you might throw out the baby with the bathwater. Framed family pictures, favourite throws for the bed, ‘souvenirs’ from home (we always buy a nice print of our current home town to take with us); these will all help you settle in to feel at home quickly.

*if you have access to a storage area in your home, or want to pay self-storage costs

Top tips for shedding belongings

  • Gumtree is great for selling stuff quickly. Also bric-a-brac (garage) sales can be great.
  • Don’t bother shipping your everyday cutlery, crockery, glassware. You will need it right away when you move into a new place so you will have to buy some to tide you over anyway. It’s easier to donate/throw and start again. It sounds wasteful but if you donate to a local charity store then someone else gets to use it.
  • Think hard about your electronics. Even if the voltage is the same, sometimes other practicalities stop you using them, especially televisions. And remember to pack lots of adapters if you do decide to take your small electronics.

4. You’ve only got what you take with you on the flight
LuggageIf you are shipping stuff, it won’t arrive for approximately three months – so think about what you will need in the meantime. In other words, whatever you pack in your luggage, that’s all you will have access to for three months (unless you hit the shops of course!). Think about the climate you are moving to, pack all of your important documents (birth certificates, insurance/bank documents, anything you need to start new role); I always throw in a few small familiar things (see above) like a couple of framed photos, that I can put up in my new home straight away. If you have favourite toiletries, pack them (and buy lots more and ship them!).

5. Keep important documents safe
As well as carrying the originals in your hand luggage, make sure that you have everything you need scanned and stored somewhere (portable hard drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.). There is nothing more frustrating than needing a piece of paper that is currently on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic! Hard copies of insurance policies, rental agreements, employment agreements, birth certificates, etc.

Baron Von Tibblesworth6. Look after the furry members of your family
We took our cat, Tibbles, with us to the US from Australia and then took him back to Australia when we moved back. And we have now brought him with us to the UK. Yes, he is a loved member of the family. Yes, he is well travelled (although disappointingly, he does not have his own passport). And yes, it is expensive!! Each time we have relocated, we have employed JetPets who are based in Australia but have connections around the world. Obviously there are many other excellent pet relocation companies out there; do your research, ask for recommendations from existing customers, etc. These companies specialise in relocating pets around the world and offer invaluable help and advice regarding the paperwork required by each country, the regulations around quarantine, timings, etc. Australia has very strict quarantine laws and there is always a quarantine period; UK and US will let you collect your pet straight away if it is from an ‘approved’ country and paperwork has been completed correctly. Obviously, you could organise your pet’s travel yourself, but get one piece of paperwork wrong or a digit of your pet’s microchip number and it could get expensive and/or your pet could have to stay in quarantine for the full six months.

We have been very lucky that Tibbles is apparently a very pragmatic cat who, as long as he is comfy and has access to food, will pretty much settle down anywhere – including a freight crate on a 24 hour flight from Melbourne to London! A couple of things we do to help him with the relocation process:

  • Get him used to the freight crate – Leave it lying around, take the liner out and put it in his bed so he gets his scent on it. Feed him in there sometimes.
  • Feliway spray – This is a cat pheromone spray which reduces stress; vets recommend its use when a cat has been boarding, had an operation, moved house, etc. We just spray it around the new home (brief aroma then humans can’t smell it, just cats!).
  • Restrict him to a couple of rooms in the new house while he settles in. Keep him shut in one room over night (this helps minimise stress from hearing other cats/animals roaming around outside)
  • Stick to his routine – keep his food the same, same brand of litter, feed him at the same time, etc.

7. Relocation companies can be very useful!
We have been lucky in that two of our four moves have been through job offers that have included a relocation package. However, whereas some relocation firms can be very helpful, they can also be underwhelming in their services and/or very expensive. So unless you are moving somewhere where you don’t speak the language or there is a lot of red tape, then you probably won’t need that much help. However, here is where they can definitely be helpful:

  • Finding you a new home – Give them a list of criteria, area preference, price range and they can come back with a vetted shortlist. This saves a huge amount of time and you know that every house you look at could be ‘the one’. The relocation agent can also very helpful regarding liaison with the rental company as you will have no credit rating or tenant references for that country; most relocation companies have good relationships with a couple of rental agencies who are happy for the relocation company to act as ‘referee’.
  • Bank accounts/drivers licences/etc – Always a hassle. The US was particularly red-tape filled so we used our relocation agent extensively to book our appointments, guide us through the process, make sure we had all the correct paperwork, etc.
  • Utilities/local services – A good relocation company can organise for the utilities to be turned on in your new home, make sure the accounts are in your name, provide details of local medical practices, shops, etc.
  • Research on schools/educational establishments/childcare

8. Keep in touch with friends and family back home
I love the 21st century, makes keeping in touch SO easy! Make sure you are tech-savvy re Skype, Viber, FaceTime, Facebook Messaging … and that your parents/friends are too. I am lucky that my parents have always been very comfortable with new technologies so embraced Skype early on (probably best as I moved to Australia back in 2004 so apart from cheap international calling cards (remember them?!), Skype was the only cost-effective way to speak to my parents. See my previous post on different Internet calling options if you want to know the pros and cons of each.

Make sure you have all the phone numbers loaded as international numbers e.g. +44 (0)xxxx xxx xxxx, makes it easier when switching SIMs.

9. Use your hobbies to meet people (or dogs/children if you have those!)
I am always envious of parents and dog owners when I move to a new place as they have a major advantage in that they will meet people without trying. I sometimes end up working freelance when I move to a new place so I would never meet anyone unless I put myself out there. I am a big fan of meetup.com – this enables you to find groups in your local area that share your interests e.g. book clubs, walking clubs, social clubs, etc. There is no fee to join, just create a profile and start joining groups. Then go along and have fun!

10. Be realistic about your new home/area
Even if you were completely positive that the move is the right thing to do and you are looking forward to it, there will still be an adjustment period. Try not to compare your new experiences with ‘back home’ too often; embrace the differences, enjoy the new experiences, stay positive about your new environment – essentially live in the now! It’s easy to focus on what you are missing rather than what is new and excitingl. Oh, and your first supermarket shop will probably take two hours; it always seems to for me as all the brands are unfamiliar and I like to read labels to check for salt/sugar content (particularly important in the US). Plus I love being in supermarkets in foreign countries, so I will spend my first time in one going up and down every single aisle just to see what’s there!

And remember although not every day will be a good day in your new home and it will occasionally be stressful and lonely, moving to a new c0untry is lots of fun and a great adventure that will give you lots of wonderful memories. And you will be lucky enough to have an opportunity to learn about a new culture, and make new friends.


Bland is so…bland – I had no idea I was a curry addict until…

Curries (royalty free image - Morguefile)
Curries (royalty free image – Morguefile)

So I am currently lying around at home recovering from throat surgery, a tonsillectomy. For those of you in the know, this is an incredibly painful procedure for adults and the recovery time is at least two weeks. Rest assured, this article will not be listing the horrors of my post-surgery life (trust me, you do NOT want to know, it’s bad) but I AM going to focus on one element of my current purgatory. Food.

Now I didn’t think I was a particularly adventurous or ‘different’ eater. My husband and I cook and eat out regularly, usually something Asian-inspired or Italian and sometimes we treat ourselves to a take-away pizza from our local (which is fabulous – inner-eastern dwellers of Melbourne, please check out Lina’s Pizza!) but I wouldn’t have said that I have ‘exotic’ tastes.

I have always taken for granted that I could eat whatever food I like; we are lucky enough to have a wonderful array of restaurants on our doorstep, Vietnamese, Burmese, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian. I would rate myself as an ‘above average’ cook and I have no food allergies so quite frankly, the world is my oyster. An average week of evening meals for me pre-surgery would have included a spicy veggie stir fry, a Malaysian, Indian or possibly Burmese curry, Cajun Salmon with some veggies, Pasta Puttenesca and/or maybe a thin crust pizza with prosciutto and mozzarella. Basically everything would have been spicy and/or tomatoey.

But post-surgery, oh how my culinary journey has been curtailed. I had no idea how exciting my diet was, what a wonderfully diverse range of cultures I could plunder for recipes, until now!!  Because right now I am restricted to bland, bland, bland. My throat is essentially raw; swallowing is painful and pretty much anything can set it aching and burning in the most upsetting way. So I have to play safe. Soup? Sure, but only if it is non-tomato based (ever cut your finger while slicing a tomato…imagine your entire throat feeling like that!). Pasta? Yep, but steady on, keep it plain, just a splash of olive oil and maybe a teeny sprinkling of parmesan. Stir fry? Why not but no chilli, ginger, garlic. Curry? Ha! I wish.  And did I mention the fact that even if I wanted a glass of wine (which I don’t!) I couldn’t; it’s not a good mix with the painkillers I am on plus I am pretty sure wine would hurt my throat just as much as tomato right now.

You may ask what on earth I have been eating for the last seven days and here it is. In all its glorious tedium:

  • wholemeal toast with a scraping of butter
  • porridge
  • pumpkin soup
  • poached eggs
  • baked potatoes
  • steamed vegetables (with no salt or pepper).

Oh, and before you ask why ice-cream isn’t on the list; let me tell you that it is an outright lie that you get to have ice-cream all the time after a tonsillectomy. Maybe that was the case in the good old days, but now you are expected to eat ‘normal meals’ straight away. And that means stuff that scrapes your throat but doesn’t ‘burn’. Plus you have to avoid excessive amounts of dairy as it – gross bit, apologies – creates mucus build up in the throat that can affect the healing process. In other words, no ice-cream.  I thought I could cheat with yoghurt, but nope, too acidic, thought my throat was on fire when I tried some.

A week on after surgery and although my appetite is finally starting to return and I am actively thinking about food again, unfortunately my throat is not playing ball; it is still way too sore to waver from the path of blandness. To distract myself as I chow down on yet another poached egg or plain baked potato (oh and did I mention that all of my food needs to be tepid – too hot and it’s like I am swallowing molten lava) I have made a list of all the food that I will be feasting on the moment my throat is healed (all washed down with the appropriate glass of wine or cider, rest assured!):

  • Lamb Rogan Josh with garlic naan
  • Chicken chilli & ginger stir fry
  • Stir fried rice
  • Tom Yum Soup or maybe a Laksa (or both!)
  • Chilli con carne
  • Dhal
  • Tapas such as patatas bravas, albondigas and chorizo
  • Every single tomato-based pasta sauce known to mankind
  • Chips (that would be ‘hot chips’ to Australians and ‘fries’ to Americans)
  • Salsa
  • Yoghurt
  • Brie, King Island Roaring Forties, in fact just cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese
  • Oranges, raspberries, rhubarb

So here’s to my swift recovery, ‘cos I have me some feasting to do!

It’s a (wo)man’s world

Apparently it’s International Women’s Day today, so I thought that I would write about just a few of the women who influenced and inspired me as a child and young woman. Growing up, I always felt eminently confident that I could study any topic I wanted, have any career I wanted, have any life I wanted. And much of that feeing was down to the stories of the women who had made their mark on history, who were a wonderful character in a book, women who had bucked the trend. The following are just a few of those women; it’s an eclectic selection, a personal one, and yes, I know that there are many, many more I could have listed!
Wonder Woman
Who wasn’t inspired by Wonder Woman as a young girl?! She had a truth lasso. And an invisible plane. And she always won against the bad guys. There weren’t many female superheroes when I was growing up so Wonder Woman was particularly special to me.
George from the Famous Five stories
George should be held up as an example to all girls. She’s a tomboy who doesn’t want to ‘play house’; she wants adventures; she’s fearless and most importantly, she talks back to Julian (pompous prig that he is) and has an awesome dog called Timmy. I devoured The Famous Five books as a child, and I don’t care how non-PC these stories are perceived to be now, George still rocks!
Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni
She took on the Romans and won. Well, at first; the Romans won eventually and killed her. But she gave it a damn good shot and I always loved the illustrations of her in my history book, arm raised in a fist, standing in her chariot driving towards the enemy at the head of her army. A woman leading an army. Something else that was rare in my history books. Which leads me onto…
Elizabeth I
“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” Elizabeth was a powerful ruler, she wasn’t a consort, she ruled in her own right. She faced down the Spanish threat, countless assassination attempts and managed relatively successfully to keep the religious in-fighting to a minimum. It was so refreshing to learn at school about a woman in control, in charge, as opposed to the endless stories of male leaders and their derring-doing.
Amelia Earhart
A female pilot. So no nonsense about women not being able to navigate or understand machinery!
Jane Austen
Yes Jane Austen was a ‘spinster’ living her quiet life in Bath. But what a waspish tongue she had, what a fabulous turn of phrase. So cutting and every word packing a punch. Her sentences are pure joy to read, the situations she wrote about still recognizable today. If I could write just one sentence in my life as perfectly crafted as one of Austen’s, I could die a happy woman.
Anita Roddick, The Body Shop founder
I have to admit I am not actually a massive fan of The Body Shop products, although I was a sucker for the banana hair putty and chamomile rinse as a teenager who wanted to be blonder but didn’t have the guts or the money for blonde highlights. But Anita Roddick was more than a woman who sold toiletries. She highlighted issues; she raised awareness of environmental challenges and supported fair trade, well before it became ‘trendy’ to be concerned about these things. A true trailblazer and one who made me realize that not every company was set up and run by men. And that women in business could be, and were, a reality.
Carmen Callil, founder of Virago
I devoured the Virago Classics novels as a teenager. Every time I saw that distinctive dark green livery and tiny apple logo on its spine in the bookstore or library, I had to have it. Antonia White. Willa Cather. Elizabeth Bowen. Writers I would never have come across, never have had the opportunity to read, if it hadn’t been for Callil’s vision for a women’s press. My heart still leaps when I see a Virago title I haven’t read yet.

There are obviously many, many more women out there who have been an inspiration to others in the past and who are an inspiration today, and I appreciate that I haven’t mentioned any female scientists, engineers, linguists, artists, but I am an English Literature graduate and books and authors will always be my inspiration in all areas of my life. In fact, if you would like to read more about fictional heroines, I suggest you read Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much). It is a wonderfully entertaining book about the fictional women that have inspired and sustained the author over the years.
One last thing. At my current workplace (a publishing company), five of its seven board members are women. So not only do I read about inspirational women, read writing BY inspirational women, but I work with inspirational women every day. Who make a successful career the norm, not the exception. And so that gives me hope that maybe one day we won’t feel the need for International Women’s Days, women-only author prizes or women-only clubs. Because successful women will be the norm everywhere.


A word of advice – NEVER start playing Candy Crush Saga

candy crush saga no more lives

Candy Crush, Candy Crush, Candy Crush. What have you done to me?! I used to be a functioning, socializing, engaging individual. Now? Hunched over my iPhone trying to get that one double striped candy combination to win the level. Playing. Just. One. More. Game. Ignoring my exasperated husband’s demands that I put my phone down. Pushing the cat off my lap (he affects my ‘game’ arm with his cute nuzzling). How did it come to this? Why is it so addictive? Why can’t I stop?

Being a glass half full girl, I believe it is the ‘hope springs eternal’ attitude. Every time I play I keep thinking, “ah well, the NEXT time I will definitely pass the level.” But then it doesn’t work out. And I am SO close. So I try again, having learnt from the last attempt what the pitfalls are. Nope. No go. So I go again. And again. And again. Then I hit the brick wall of ‘no lives’. No more lives for the next 30 minutes?! Aarrgghhh! I just need one more life and I will definitely get to the next level. So, and I admit this only to close friends, I reset the clock on my iPhone to trick Candy Crush Saga into giving me more lives. Sometimes I do that two or three times. That’s fifteen attempts in about half an hour. I am so ashamed.

I have read lots of articles on the addictive qualities of Candy Crush and most of them centre on the fact that there is enforced downtime, you HAVE to stop even if you don’t want to. So the game always leaves you wanting more. And it is a deceptively simple game to start with; you line up a few candies of the same colour so they explode, and repeat, to reach a certain number of points. But then the levels start getting harder; suddenly you are dodging chocolate that ‘eats’ your candy, extricating your candies from cream, trying to line up candies to get rid of the ticking time bombs, using licorice to block chocolate, sometimes doing all of this while racing against the clock. It’s heady stuff!

So my advice to those who are thinking about clicking on that cute little candy avatar in the App Store is DON’T DO IT! And to those who have already clicked. Well, sorry my friend, you are in the Candy Crush Saga dependency club now…

Melting, melting … top tips for any newly arrived northern europeans on surviving this heat wave

Melbourne heat wave

Northern europeans (and English people who don’t see themselves as European), hear me. You may think you know what it’s like to experience hot weather … but you would be wrong. Until you have lived through consecutive multiple 40C + days, you will not have a true understanding of the horror that awaits you! So with the benefit of my years of living here in Melbourne, I give you my top tips to surviving this week’s heat wave.


  • Fill all the ice cube trays you own.
  • Put bottles of water and face cloths in the freezer.
  • Stock up on food, preferably things that don’t need to be heated up such as salad items, yoghurt, etc. And a box of icy poles (or super dupers as Aussies call them) would not go astray either.
  • TOP TIP – grapes are great frozen, and very refreshing. Bung a bunch in the freezer.
  • Close all the blinds and curtains in your house and make sure all windows are shut tight.
  • Buy a freestanding oscillating fan, if you don’t already own one (or more).

During the heat wave:

  • DO NOT OPEN WINDOWS “to let the cool air/breeze in.” There is none, this is an English fallacy.  All it will do is make your house even hotter.
  • Do not open the curtains/blinds, unless its nighttime. They need to stay closed until the heatwave is over.
  • Soak a towel or tea towel in cold water and drape over the fan (making sure it won’t get trapped in the blades).
  • Fill a tub with cold water and put ice cubes in there (remembering to top up your ice cube trays afterwards, you don’t want to run out of ice!) and stick your feet in there. Or have a cold bath if you have a bathtub (lucky you).
  • There is no such thing as too many cold showers. And definitely have one before you go to bed.
  • Spray your bedsheets with water using a trigger spray bottle and have a cold shower before you go to bed (and if you are wearing some sort of night cover like a t-shirt, soak that in water too).
  • Sleep in the ‘coolest’ or rather, ‘least hot’, room in the house. This is not the time to get all precious about where you sleep.
  • Don’t create any additional heat in the house that you don’t have to. That means no hairdryers, ovens, stovetops, irons, etc.
  • Do not leave the house unless you have to. It is always hotter outside and don’t underestimate how difficult it is to get about in this weather.

Of course, if you have air con, you are laughing.  Unless it isn’t in your bedroom, in which case you will be dragging your mattress into the room that does have the air con and camping out there so ha ha back.

Out and about:

Obviously you will only be leaving the house if you are (a) mad or (b) don’t have air con and live in a concrete box; otherwise you will be hunkered down as per my advice above.

  • Seek out free/cheap places that have air con: Your car; cinemas; shopping malls; work (!); bowling alleys, libraries, museums.
  • Try not to be outside between 12pm and 6pm, this is the hottest part of the day.
  • Wear a hat, loose clothing and carry at least one 500ml water bottle, preferably two.
  • Walk SLOWLY and in the shade (dur) and if you don’t feel stupid, use an umbrella to keep the heat off your head.

That’s it really. All common sense stuff but I didn’t do half of it my first summer here so I thought it was worth sharing!

Oh and my ‘glass half full’ take on Melbourne heat waves… Every heat wave (eventually) leads to a cool change. Which are brilliant! The thermostat can drop up to 18C in 30 minutes. Bliss!

Rainy weather is baking weather

It’s raining, so I want to bake. The moment those rain clouds gather, I just want to make myself a nice cup of tea, put BBC Radio 4 on (hurrah for Tune In Pro radio app!) and bake. I don’t know why I have this Pavlovian baking response to rain; maybe because baking is cosy and reassuring and when the weather is awful I can hunker down inside and get a warm glow (literally!) from baking a cake in the oven.

Of course, by the time I have got out all of my flours, sugars, flavourings, etc. from the cupboard and pulled my adored KitchenAid stand mixer towards me on the worktop, I have decided that really I need to make at least two cakes, or a large cake and a batch of cupcakes, to make it worth the effort. So I do.

And every time I bake, I think of my grandmother. Although I didn’t do much baking with her as a child, I always associate cake with Nanny because every time I visited her house, I would get a piece of cake. Every time. Which sounds great, except that her cakes really weren’t very good! Nanny only made three types of cake: a banana bread that always had a slight grey tinge to it; a sort of bakewell tart – the sponge and jam were good but the pastry was always pretty bad!; and a chocolate cake with chocolate icing – my particular favourite, even when she would take it from the freezer, pop it in the ‘micro’ (as she liked to call her microwave) to defrost it ,which would result in a still frozen solid centre, warm squidgy sponge around the edges and melted chocolate icing. Still, it tasted good! And wow, were her cakes stodgy. She once handed my father a bag on a visit to us one day and as he took it he jokingly asked what was in it, rocks?!, as it was so heavy. No just a few cakes I made Nanny replied matter-of-factly, not put out at all!

Nanny passed away a few years ago now – I still miss her dreadfully but at least I can remember her every time I bake. So this article is for you, Nanny.

Nanny and me

You can find photos of some of my baking efforts on my ‘A Piece of Cake’ Pinterest board.

Keeping in touch is so easy…and free for the tech savvy

The holiday season is the perfect time to talk with family and friends at great length and with much frequency – which is expensive to do if most of them live on the other side of the world to you (as they do for me).

When I first moved away from home I had to use a public call box and cheap international calling cards, laboriously punching in the international dialing code, the phone number AND the 16-digit card passcode, then enduring shouted conversations, feedback on the line and a dodgy connection to reassure my parents I was still alive (this was before Internet cafes took off, let alone free Wi-Fi). Then I graduated to the heady world of Skype on a desktop and using headphones (the built-in microphone was useless!). Now, with my smartphone permanently glued to my hand, all I need to do is to call up one of the many (free) smartphone apps available to video call, voice call or message anyone I want to globally – for free.

Here are my favourites:


Works on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Bada, Nokia


  • Free text, voice calls, photo messages and location-sharing with Viber users
  • Doesn’t require a Wi-Fi connection, you can use your 3G or 4G connection too, useful when you are out and about
  • When you add Viber to your smartphone it instantly integrates with your own contact list to pull any existing contacts already using Viber into your Viber address book
  • Automatically adds new contacts to your Viber address book if an existing contact in your phone book joins Viber
  • No registration, passwords or invitations required
  • Option to call non-Viber landline or mobile numbers at low rates with ‘Viber Out’
  • Also has a desktop option for both Mac and PC


  • NO video
  • Connection can be a bit spotty


  • Long conversations with friends where you don’t necessarily need video
  • Free local calls with friends
  • Keeping in touch with local friends to make arrangements when travelling overseas when you don’t want to use international roaming; just hang around outside a Starbucks or somewhere with a free Wi-Fi connection and call and text who you want (I used to agree to find a Wi-Fi connection at a certain time, couple of times a day, so I could make plans with friends/they could get hold of me when we were out and about traveling).


Whatsapp Messenger

Works on: iPhone, Windows Phone, Symbian, Nokia, Blackberry


  • Free texts and photo messages cross-platform, using your phone’s data plan
  • Once installed it accesses your contact list so anyone on the list that has Whatsapp will show up as a contact.


  • Doesn’t work on Android
  • Text messages only so you need to use a separate app if you want to call someone


  • Quick, free text messages with overseas friends


Works on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry


  • Free video and voice calls
  • Cheap calls to landlines (once you have loaded credit)
  • Share screen option if on a desktop or laptop
  • Three-way phone call (good when talking to multiple siblings!)
  • Also works on desktops, devices, tablets, televisions and skype-ready phones


  • Connection can drop out, video sometimes freezes


  • Use with parents who might not be very tech-savvy.

FaceTime (and FaceTime Audio)
And of course, for anyone on iPhones you have access to FaceTime which gives the user free video calls with any of your contacts who also use an iPhone; and if you both have iOS7 then you can use the new Audio Time, that uses up less bandwidth.