Portrait picture of a garden with lawn, raised beds, and mature trees

From cactus killer to amateur gardener

It’s apparently not easy to dispatch a cactus, but some years ago I managed, inadvertently of course.

Yet, brushing aside my apparent inability to care for hardy succulents, and seeing as I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, when we moved house last year I found myself the proud owner of a large garden that was going to need a significant amount of attention.

And as I’m frequently contrary and rather thran, challenge accepted.

Benefits of working from home

The great thing about working from home is that instead of spending lunchtimes seeking out the last communal fork in the office (true story), I can do something a little more constructive with my time.

In fact, since starting my own business, in between writing words of course, I’ve learnt to make jam and pasta, as well as bake bread and croissants; although, it’s fair to say laminating dough took a bit of time — and several attempts — to master.

A few croissants cooling on a wire tray

My freshly baked croissants

So riding that gastronomic, or gluttonous, wave of success, I decided to make our new garden much more useful by growing vegetables and herbs.

Feast or famine?

From main crop potatoes to beetroot, pea pods to carrots, who knows what will survive my clumsy, and no doubt intermittent care.

It’s not that I’m a daftie (you don’t need green fingers to write good copy, after all) — I’m just a toonser who hasn’t had a proper garden to look after, until now.

But so far, so good.

All my beds are ready for planting over the next few weeks, with some lettuce and fennel already sprouting inside in a seed tray.

Fully constructed raised bed with fertiliser

Two hours and two drill bits in – raised bed success

Early lessons include anticipating two hours, not 20 minutes, for building a raised bed (incidentally you need to make sure the drill bit’s in properly or you might break one — or two — of them); and chitting a seed potato means sticking it in an egg box and waiting for the tubers to grow. Thanks, Google.

Also, don’t expect to be able to move much without a nagging pain the morning after a full day spent gardening.

Chitting potatoes in egg boxes

Chitting my main crop Desiree potatoes

Over the coming weeks, I’ll post updates on my gardening efforts, unless they fail, then I’ll likely post nothing….; meanwhile, feel free to share any of your gardening tips.

Trust me, I’ll need them.

A press pass picture, me using a typewrite, and up to date image

Change, competition and copywriting: advice to my younger self

In the mid-1980s when I was at primary school, my class was asked to work out how old we’d be in the year 2000.

Answer? 25.

A full quarter century. Wow.

And I remember thinking that, by then, I’d be a fully-fledged adult: sorted with a career and family, maybe I’d even be married to Morten Harket.

Yet in my 20s, despite hunting high and low, I still hadn’t met Morten.

All was not lost though: I was making great strides at work, and I was even lucky enough to be on the property ladder.

I’d also realised that being a grown-up is a process that’s never complete: change is the norm.

With that in mind, and to mark the dubious pleasure of turning 40 this week, I considered what advice I’d give my younger self, aside from buying shares in Apple after Steve Jobs’ departure in 1985.

  • Be a sponge – From every good experience, from every bad one, learn something; engage with people; read, watch and listen to the news; make up your own mind
  • Don’t worry so much about what others think – Simply put, those who matter don’t mind; those who mind don’t matter. Generally, you’ll do better and gain more respect (although not necessarily friends) by expressing a rational, reasoned argument
  • Try not to pass up great opportunities – But don’t dwell on the what ifs if you do
  • Surround yourself with positive people, capable of dishing out honest advice – Be a trusted friend or colleague; don’t let others bring you down
  • Your only real competition is you – Only by consistently doing your job better, including learning from mistakes, will you stand apart from those you’re competing against
  • The minute you lose your patience, you’ve lost the argument – Fair to say I’m still working on this one
  • Don’t be so afraid of change – Setting up my own business was a risk. No question. Yet it remains the best career move I’ve made. Calculated risks can pay dividends, and not just financially
  • Qualifications are good, but it’s what you do with them that counts – Don’t assume your degree or qualification entitles you to a senior management role. Build on it with hard work and a good attitude, and you’ll see results
  • If you don’t know an answer, ask – Far from making you look daft, it’ll show you’re someone who’s willing to learn and not afraid to admit they’re unsure

And finally, learn to move on.

Whether it’s putting an issue or disagreement to bed; changing jobs when the Sunday fear gets too much; or even opting to move to a different city, there’s something rather liberating in personifying the immortal words of West Wing’s President Josiah Bartlet.

“What’s next?”

Over to you, what advice would you give?

Black and white picture of a street in Aberdeen on a rainy, overcast day

A dreich day in Aberdeen

Having a good fudgel? Need a cwtch?

Words are extremely powerful: expressing and shaping our beliefs, feelings and opinions. They help us develop a sense of belonging, build a strong identity, and influence how we act and behave.

As a copywriter, it’ll come as no surprise that words, their meaning and their origin, are something I’m particularly interested in.

And if you noticed, and objected, that I ended my sentence with a preposition there, you may be interested in this.

Enter my less-than-scientific and not quite representative study.

In current media parlance, I ‘took to’ social media, asking friends and followers to contribute their favourite words or phrases.

While I wouldn’t say the results led to a deeper understanding of the human condition, they were genuinely interesting.

What’s more, the heart emoji, the Global Language Monitor’s international word for 2014, wasn’t mentioned once.

Let’s start close to home.

Most of the suggestions came from specific parts of the UK, perhaps emphasising that the words we use are often a means to articulate an affiliation with, or sense of belonging to, where we come from, and places we hold dear.


  • ‘Stood there like cheese at fourpence’ (waiting idly/timewasting) comes from the Lancashire mill towns where, at one time, fourpence was expensive for cheese and pricing it as such would mean a lot was left unsold
  • Also from the north-west: ‘Stood there like piffy on a rock bun’ (hanging around unnecessarily)
  • Nesh: Someone susceptible to feeling cold


  • Cwtch (pronounced cootch, to rhyme with butch). Recently, Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens suggested to two fighting players that if they wanted a cwtch (a cuddle, hug) they should do it off the field


  • Dreich (dreary, bleak – eg this post’s featured image), outwith (outside/beyond) and stramash (uproar/tumult) were all suggested, as well as scunnert (fed-up): “I’m fair scunnert the day.”

Northern Ireland:

  • Thaveless (someone who’s pathetic/useless); ‘Catch yourself on’ (get a grip of yourself, wise up) and ‘stickin’ out’ (brilliant) eg: “That dinner last night was stickin’ out.”

And suggestions from the European mainland included:


  • Lichtgrenze (literally means ‘border of light’): It’s the name given to the lit balloon installation where the Berlin Wall once stood, marking 25 years since its fall
  • Weltschmerz translates as ‘world pain’ and describes a weariness because of a perceived mismatch between the ideal world and how things really are

And finally….

Anyone who’s had an argument will have experienced Denis Diderot’s l’esprit de l’escalier (literally staircase wit): the predicament of thinking of the perfect retort or comment too late.

So whether you like a Chic Murray-esque paraprosdokian turn of phrase: “My girlfriend’s a redhead. No hair, just a red head,” or are having a fudgel (pretending to work), join in and suggest your favourite words.

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