Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Food Bank Bucks

If, like me, you are still rubbing your tummy like a happy Samiad after a glut of indulgence over Christmas then perhaps it’s timely to think about food banks in Bucks.

This was my 39th Christmas and despite the joy of being able to share it with my little family, something ugly crept in and gnawed at its glittery edges.

Maybe it’s the downturn, maybe it’s growing older but this year I was acutely aware of the grubby consumer Grinch pawing at my purse.     

Supermarkets, stuffing their aisles with goodies to eat from September, adverts touting sales before Christmas day, Easter eggs on sale from 1st January, all before the pounding of weight watchers and gym membership started.

It’s like we’re on a giant fun fair ride whose only aim is to shake as much change out of you as possible.   

The ‘Pig Goes Pop’ game my 4-year-old received for her birthday has become a cheap plastic reminder of what we have become.  

Born, consume, pop.

Each day the need in Britain grows for food banks.

Unemployment, escalating energy bills and rising food costs are pushing more people than ever before to the financial brink and into food poverty. 

Hunger is horrible.  Or, at least, so I am told.  

I am fortunate enough to only know hunger through choice. True hunger ebbs and flows.  First you feel shaky and weak, then pain which fades until all you feel is hollow and tired.                 

Speaking to Kate Vale, Food Bank Coordinator of One Can Trust - a Bucks-based charity that provides free emergency food parcels - there are around 12,000 children in Bucks living in income poverty.

This translates to approximately one in five children in High Wycombe going to bed hungry.

Sadly, the demand for short-term emergency food parcels in the area is growing. Latest figures from One Can Trust show that number of food parcels issued in 2011 was 225; in 2013 this figure rose to 3,347.

In order to use a food bank you must be referred by a registered agency, such as a healthcare practice, social services or a homeless centre.

Donations, from schools, supermarkets, companies and individuals are delivered to the Big Yellow Self-Storage centre on the London Road. The food is then checked (it must be within use by date), sorted and packed by volunteers for delivery to those in need in the area.

There are around 100 volunteers who generously give up their time to help One Can Trust pack and distribute the food parcels; however, there is always need for more.

I know there are wider term issues to consider here.

I appreciate that food banks are a quick fix, a sticking plaster for something fundamentally wrong with the system - whether that’s cutting people’s benefits, rising unemployment or something else – but we and the Government can’t ignore the rise in food banks.      

I hope to give up my time soon. If you can give up one or two hours a week or offer food donations contact One Can Trust here http://onecantrust.org.uk/contact-us/ or call 07731 789313.
  


    

Monday, 9 December 2013

The road to Mandeville is strewn with sick

It's a major boob when people involved in a car accident at the entrance of Wycombe hospital are forced to travel 45-minutes to their nearest A&E for treatment.

Wycombe has a population in excess of 133,000 and yet for some ludicrous reason the decision was taken to shut our A&E two years ago.     

This means anyone injured or seriously ill must be transported by ambulance or car to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough or Stoke Mandeville – both a toe curling, over hill and dale, 45-minutes away.
Official NHS statistics show that dispensing with our A&E has increased the number of people waiting for treatment for over four hours by five times at both Wexham and Stoke Mandeville hospital.
Perhaps even more scary (and as yet to be documented – surprise!) is the inevitable rise in deaths and babies born in lay-bys that the closure has undoubtedly caused.
Road to Hell
Last month my partner developed a kidney stone.  His second one this year, I am familiar with the routine.  
It starts with vigorous back rubbing, followed by some moves like Jagger then the cushion-biting death throws kick in.  
I realised that my plan to drop my daughter at nursery before hot footing him over to Stoke Mandeville was dashed when Jagger put in an early appearance.

Ushering Matt and my four-year old daughter into the car I started the long, winding journey to Stoke Mandeville in morning rush hour.
We weren't even clear of Prestwood when the guttural man-screaming started.
Trying to save my daughter post-traumatic stress therapy I tried to reassure her that Daddy just 'had a tummy bug' and cranked the volume of 100 giggly wriggly toddler songs as loud as it would go.

Approaching the main roundabout in Great Missenden the vomiting started.
Overcome with pain (kidney stones are the male equivalent of giving birth apparently *raises eyebrow* - but that’s another blog) Matt started to throw up out of the passenger window.

The first round exploded onto a sulk of schoolchildren waiting for their bus. The second lot - and if this is you, I can only apologise – hit a cyclist head on - all to the cheery strains of ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’.     
     
When we finally arrived at Stoke Mandeville I abandoned my sick-soaked partner at the entrance to deliver my daughter (albeit with a five-mile stare) to nursery.

Later that morning I then made the journey again to collect a much more subdued Matt from A&E.
Rambling from the effects of Tramadol, Matt muttered something about being called back in for a scan but that it was likely to be sometime in the next 48 hours.
Sure enough as soon as we arrived home in High Wycombe there was a message from the hospital asking Matt to come back for his scan. That was journey number three.
Annoying? Yes (especially if you're in tremendous pain or a passer-by being sicked on). Life-threatening? No. 
But what of those poor Wycombe folk critically injured, seriously ill or in labour? What happens then? A 45-minute journey is simply too long.

Any fool can see that shuttling patients cross-country won't cut costs (hello - fuel!?) or help a patient’s outcome – at best they might throw up on pedestrians, at worse, they might not make it at all.
Something needs to be done.
What do you think? 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Would you live in a murder home?

Having worked in the house-building industry for over a decade I am always intrigued to hear what becomes of ‘stigmatised’ homes – these are properties which may be shunned by buyers because of their association with negative events, including suicide, murder or paranormal activity. 
Last week it was revealed that the cottage where Mark Bridger murdered five-year old April Jones was to be put up for rent again after the Local Authority allegedly refused to buy it and knock it down.
But with April’s abduction and murder still raw in everyone’s mind, who would want to rent a property knowing it was the site of such a horrific crime?
Homes where particularly shocking and emotive crimes have taken place are frequently demolished - partly out of respect for the family and also to allow a grieving community to move on. Not to mention prevent the site becoming a haunt for ghoulish souvenir collectors or 'terror tourists'. 

Who could forget the iron-mongered sign of 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester that became synonymous with serial killers Fred and Rosemary West?
Dubbed as the ‘house of horrors’, the world’s press focused on this unremarkable terraced home as it gave up the remains of nine victims, including their own daughter.
In view of the media attention and recognising that very few would want to live in a house with such a notorious past, in October 1996 Gloucester City Council had the house and adjoining property demolished. In its place an innocuous footpath was laid to the city centre.
More recently the home in Derby where six children tragically died in a fire caused by their parents Mick and Mairead Philpott was demolished. The plan is to build more housing on the site.
Whilst the home where 12-year old Tia Sharp was murdered by her grandmother’s partner, Stuart Hazell, was also knocked down to give way for new homes.
Buyer Beware
But what happens to less well known homes where dark events take place? Once the police tape is removed, a slap of fresh paint and back on the market for an unsuspecting buyer to snap up?
Well until very recently this appears to be the case. Guidance stated that it was up to the vendor to decide whether to disclose details.
However, under new guidelines introduced earlier this year by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) agents, sellers and landlords must now disclose all manner of skeletons in the closet - ranging from ASBO neighbours to whether the home has been the location of a serious crime.
For me personally, houses don’t commit crimes, people do. However whilst I would have no problem living in a house where someone died of natural causes, if the home had been the scene of a particularly grizzly crime, I would definitely have reservations. 
How would you feel about living in a home with a horrible history? 

Perhaps you have even lived in a stigmatised property or know someone who has?
I am currently researching stigmatised homes and people's experiences of buying/renting and living in them. 

If you would like to contribute, please let me know below or email me direct at melissa_blamey@hotmail.co.uk



Monday, 30 September 2013

Funerals - An inadequate way to say goodbye?

Nothing sharpens your focus on what’s important in life than a friend or relatives’ funeral.
I expect anyone who has lived in Buckinghamshire for any length of time will be familiar with the sweeping drive up to Chilterns Crematorium.
Last week I attended the funeral of my dear old neighbour, Stan.
At 89, Stan passed away of a heart attack whilst under observation for an un-heart related illness in hospital. So although it was expected, there was still a bit of shock value to his passing, he’d have liked that. 
A former soldier and about as cockney as they come, Stan was a genuine character of our cul-de-sac.
I’ll personally remember him for his great sense of humour and kindness – he walked my aging shih tzu every day for years - only ever accepting a fiver on a friday for a beer as payment.
He also once nursed my ailing fairground goldfish back to health in an orange bucket - which he found hilarious as it took us ages to actually spot the fish.
He was a colourful eccentric, leaving Christmas lights on all year round and driving every morning (choke fully open) to get his morning paper. 
His porch was like Blackpool grockle shop. Covered with all manner of tantalising trinkets, from dangling plastic spiders to odd flower pot men fashioned out of old wood and pots. The poor district nurses popping in at night must have had the bejeebers scared out of them.
Living directly opposite, he’d watch me dither about every Tuesday evening, playing ‘wheelie bin bingo’ before hollering out the right colour.Stan also seemed to know the Wycombe District Council’s Wheelie Bin rota by heart.
And he was always right, even on Bank Holidays.
The Funeral Format
Sitting in silence, save for a few muffled sobs, as the curtain symbolically closed around Stan’s casket I couldn’t help feel the inadequacy of the British funeral.
No reflection of Stan’s daughter’s heartfelt eulogy or his granddaughter’s poignant reading of the poem ‘Stand Down Soldier’, there was something amiss in the format.  And perhaps that’s exactly what it is, a funeral format.
It’s a great leveler to know that life will probably come down to a 20-minute presentation about your achievements, two songs (one likely to be Wind Beneath my Wings) and a finger buffet at the local boozer.
The truth is that unless you verbalise or put in writing your last wishes no one is actually going to know what you want.
Having had that conversation my partner, I now know he wishes to be buried like a dog. 
This came about through the death of my neighbour’s beloved German shepherd, Maggie, several years ago.   
'Baggins' as she was affectionately known, died suddenly of a heart attack whilst out trotting on her daily walk.
No warning, no illness, no injection in the paw, just here one moment then crossing over the rainbow bridge the next.
Hearing the news and knowing what Baggins meant to her owners, a number of us gathered at their home. Her body, still warm, lay in the back of their car; there had been no time to get to the vets.
Although in shock there was an air of a job to be done.  Almost without speaking, the men folk (very Downton-esque, I know) went to the bottom of the garden and started to dig.
They dug for hours in the cold Autumn drizzle. Huge mounds of earth piling up each side. In the end the hole was deep and wide enough for a human. 

Wrapped in her old blanket, they carefully laid Baggins down in her muddy forever bed. The first few spades of earth were cast by her owner before the rest joined in.
This gesture changed my partner’s view of funerals forever. Upon his passing he wants the same treatment. And despite it probably being a jail-able offense, I understand.
There’s something beautiful and cathartic about digging the final resting place for someone you love.
It's dirty, it's hard work and above all it's real.
Forget sanitised funerals, pan piped Eva Cassidy songs and finger buffets, let’s get stuck in.    
What do you think? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Dos and Don'ts of Blogger Wooing

So you’re blogging. Congratulations. But no blog is an island. Neither should it be. 

Unless you’re Hugh Grant in About a Boy. 

Or one of those weird islands that no one visits.

To make your blog an island that people want to visit, stick around and even buy from the gift shop then you need to build your name.

The first important step of building you name is to woo other bloggers.

By having your site mentioned on other people’s blogs you create all important back links to your blog. As well as helping to raise your profile, Google likes back links as it says ‘hey, this guy is worth listening to’ – helping to improve your site ranking.

So how do you go about building relationships with other bloggers? 

Here are some important Dos:

Make a list – First things first. Make a shopping list of blogs you would like to be mentioned on. More than 10, less than 50.

Before you jump in and send any kind of pitch as to why a blogger should feature your product/mention your venue/plug your blog subscribe to their blog and follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Listen – would you butt into a three way conversation about best children's DVDs by suggesting the new Paranormal Activity film? No.

The next step is to listen.

Listen to each blogger’s conversations individually. What topics does this blogger specialise in? What do they get excited about? Who have they previously featured as guest bloggers? Do they include a list of requirements for submissions on their site? (lots of bloggers do - if so, take note).

Get to know the blogger and their themes so you can align your pitch to their exact needs.

Follow – when you have a good idea of a blogger’s niche then it is time to act - but not with your pitch. A simple 'Hi there', a constructive comment on their latest post or a retweet saying why this post is useful should get you noticed. Don't do it too much, you're following, not stalking. It just means that when you do pitch you’re not cold calling.

Engage – Once you know about your blogger and I mean really know only then it’s time to pitch. Firstly, make sure the story that you are pitching is newsworthy – so you've decked out your new reception? You've added an oojamaflip to the whats-it, so now your thingy goes really fast? Sorry but save it for your newsletter. 

Bloggers want fresh, new, exclusive (ideally) content, after all that’s how they tantalise and increase their subscribers.

Once you have your story, keep your email short, keep it punchy and outline clearly why the blogger’s readership needs your story.

Yes, you may be contacting 20 other bloggers with the same pitch but, if it matters then take the time to personalise each email, including the blogger’s name.    

Follow up. Yes it is ok to follow up. Once. A week later. But never pester. 

If the blogger isn't interested don't be disheartened, if it is a very popular blog then they will receive hundreds of pitches a month. Wait a few weeks, have a re-think and try again with another fresh angle.

Next time I will cover the Don'ts of wooing bloggers. If you want to make friends with bloggers to increase your coverage I am an award-winning copywriter and blogger in BuckinghamshireEmail me on melissa_blamey@hotmail.co.uk






Thursday, 14 February 2013

Beat bleak business times with some banging SEO



There is no doubt this is a tough time for UK businesses which is why – whether you are Maurice’s Pet Shop, or a global tech business - having an up-to-date, Google-grabbing website is essential for attracting new business and raising all important revenue. But in these bleak business times is your website working hard enough?

With peoples’ attention spans shorter than a gnat’s whisker it is no good appearing on page four of Google’s search results, by then your buyer has opened the first two links, spied what they want, bagged it and run. 

To give your website the edge on Google, it is important that each page is given the full SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) treatment, which is basically making sure that Google understands exactly what it is you do.  

Here are 9 tips to make your website work harder for you:

1.    Keywords - The first step to website wonderment is to identify the relevant keywords for your business. This is relatively simple; all you have to do is concentrate on the words that people type into a search engine to find the services you offer.

For example, if you sell fishing tackle, users might type in ‘fishing tackle’, ‘fishing rods’ or ‘fishing equipment.’ You also want to identify location-based keywords, as people often type in what they are looking for, followed by the location. For example, ‘fishing tackle High Wycombe’.

Much better than the power of guesswork, however, is to employ some nifty tools to find relevant keywords for you, such as, Google Analytics or the Google Adwords keywords function.

2.    Once you have identified your relevant keywords try to use them in your website domain name. For example, calling your website www.billybass.co.uk doesn’t include information about what you do, where as ‘billsfishingtackleinwycombe.co.uk’ does.

3.    As well as including a selection of carefully chosen keywords in your META description - the short description of your business below your Google listing - also use your keywords in each of your page URLs. For example: www.billsfishingtackle.co.uk/fly-fishing-tackle

4.    Another way to improve your ranking is to make sure you include your main keyword in your page headings and subheading tags.

5.    Pepper your keywords throughout the text on all of your web pages. You shouldn't over stuff your content with keywords as it will read oddly; instead use them in the natural flow of the text. Also underline or bold keywords where you mention them to reinforce what your site is about.   

6.    If you link to another page on your site, use your keywords in the link as this will help improve your site ranking too. For example, if on page one you are talking about fishing rods and you mention fishing bait, you may want to include a link to another page selling fishing bait. Never use ‘click here’ to take your reader to another page, instead make the keyword the link. For example: ‘find out more about fishing bait’
      
7.    Meaningful, well-written content is a must for a successful website. Google prioritises sites with quality, authoritative content about a subject, so although it may take time (or a little investment if you hire a professional copywriter to do it) it will boost your website ranking.

8.    Get back-links. To help improve your site ranking, try to get listed on other reputable sites in your field that rank highly on Google, you can do this by offering to write a guest post or add a tantalising blog to your site that people with a common interest will share. Basically, the more sites that link to your site, the more gold stars Google will give you.

9.    As soon as you have completed your site, submit it to Google. Don’t expect things to happen overnight, it can take several weeks for Google to index a new site. In the meantime, work on making some worthwhile back-links from other quality sites that operate in your field.

These are just the basics and there are several more techniques you can use to improve your Google ranking.   

If you’re launching, or already have an online business, it is important to make sure your website has the right ingredients Google loves, this may take a little time but the reward of fresh, hungry custom will be well worth it.  

For more free friendly advice, pop over to www.melissablamey.com or reach me on Twitter @melissa blamey

Stay Classy San Diego.

  
         

Saturday, 17 November 2012

10 things toddlers do that drive you bananas


If you were in Asda today, you might have heard me. I was the blonde fishwife bawling at the three year old to come back/put that down/don’t eat that.  Besides it being easier to take a goat to do your weekly shop, here are 10 other things toddlers do that drive you nuts:

1. Drawing on stuff – walls, the dog, themselves, you, sadly nothing is off limits to a little Salvador Farley armed with a Sharpie. The key is to have lots of scrap paper (birth certificates are good), Cif and gin for later.

2. Hiding stuff – your everyday survival kit - car keys, bank cards and mobile – are under constant threat of becoming toddler treasure. Like magpies who hone in on purely essential items, there is one rule: if they can reach it, it’s fair game. The truth is you've got to stay one step ahead: if you need it, hide it. If you've lost it, check your shoes.
3. Eating stuff – If a toddler’s five-a-day included chalk, bogies, insoles, sel-o-tape and dry dog kibble they would be extremely well nourished. This morning I caught my three year old chewing on a repeat prescription. Please, stick to the edible stuff kids.
4. Saying stuff - Me: “Oh, look, it’s Uncle Alex.”
Toilet roll used as bath toy
Uncle Alex: “Hello, Poppy how are you?”
Poppy: “I don’t like Uncle Alex. He’s got a hairy nose hole.”
Brilliant.
5. Not saying stuff:  Kids who have grasped the concept of talking, do so, a lot. If they’re anything like mine, they prattle, all-day-long. Except when it comes to talking on the phone, then their mouths shut faster than a decent shop on Wycombe high street.
Holding phone out, pleading voice: “darling, please say hello to gramps, it’s his birthday...he’s in hospital...on the Liverpool Care Pathway...please....?” 
6. Touching stuff - I understand the desire to touch is pretty strong in toddlers. But really, everything? From train toilet seats, duck poo and dog’s bottoms, to buying apps you don’t need and calling your work while you are ‘otherwise engaged’ in the bathroom, it is never enough for a toddler to look, it needs a jolly good poke, followed by a press ‘send’ just to make sure.      
7. Weeing on stuff – I had witnessed the phenomena of ‘mums being weed on’ by little boys so was quite glad to have a slightly more 'contained’ little girl, except when it came to toilet training. Holding my little one over a public toilet one day, she projectile peed all over my new Zara jumper.
Top tip: carry a spare top and immerse them as far as possible in the loo to 'minimise seepage'.
8. Falling off stuff – we’ve graced the presence of various Buckinghamshire A&Es three this year. Always unprepared, always without change for car parks and the fetid water they call tea, always to be told she’s ok, always to leave feeling like a new parent twonk.
9. Breaking stuff – I maintain an invoice of items my daughter has ruined/broken on my laptop (including a laptop) and plan to hand it to her 18th birthday, like an anti-disney princess story.  
So far the list comprises:
X 1 X-box – reason: play dough shoved the disc drive
X 1 laptop screen – reason: danced on
X 1 car CD player – reason: used as a money box
X 1 pug dog – reason: fed raisins (ok he’s still with us but the vet did say it was touch and go)
X 1 Guerlain bronzer – reason: smashed into a million pieces, mixed with water and made into teddy food
X numerous CDs – reason: used as ice skates
10. Your stuff - what does your toddler do that drives you bananas? Do tell...

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