Thursday, 20 April 2017

Podcasts aren't dead

I recently came across this article about podcasts on the BBC News website. It claims that despite being hailed as the future of radio broadcasting, they still remain a "niche pursuit" and aren't catching on in the mainstream. I agree somewhat but I don't think we should be writing them off completely. Here are some reasons why...

The future: Storytelling in a digital age

People respond to short, digestible and downloadable content that they can consume on the go. The podcast has revolutionised radio in the same way that Netflix and Amazon have revolutionised TV.  Podcasts allow consumers to pick and choose the content they want, when they want it.

The popularity of the TV serial drama has proven the age-old hypothesis that we love a cliff-hanger – from Dickens to Dallas, we will tune in again and again to find out the long drawn out conclusion. The only difference is now we don’t have to wait.

This, combined with our growing distrust in the mainstream media, has lead more and more of us to find alternative sources of news and knowledge.

For the blogger and YouTube generation, we prefer to find our own source of the truth – preferably told in an entertaining way, through the medium of a story or relatable character. With this in mind, the way organisations promote to and engage with their audiences is changing too. 

The new activism?

The podcast is one of new ways for people to feel politically and culturally engaged. Pod Save America is a popular “resistance” podcast run by three Former Obama staffers, keen to organise opposition to Donald Trump. The idea that just about anyone can launch and promote their own podcast (similar to blogging) means that we are all welcome to join the conversation. It feels less exclusive than mainstream media.

As listeners we don’t feel preached to – it’s more relaxed, casual. Like vloggers can begin to feel like our online friends, the podcasters we tune into weekly have the same effect. We trust them and we want to hear their thoughts. This is where marketers and advertisers can take advantage of new, ready-made captive audiences.

New approach to marketing

New York-based Gimlet Media has just launched the second series of Open For Business, its show for eBay, which debuted last summer and became the top-ranked business podcast on the iTunes download chart. It has also produced Tinder’s podcast, DTR (Define the Relationship), which made the overall iTunes podcast top ten in several countries, reaching number 12 in the UK. Nazanin Rafsanjani, the company’s creative director, says:

"For eBay, it was about offering help to people running small businesses and "making them feel less alone – tackling the topics they’re wrestling with on a daily basis". Meanwhile, Tinder wanted to tell stories that resonated with a young female audience, to try to counter notions that the dating app is an unfriendly place for women." (Source:

This seems like a fairly new approach which isn't driven by the usual marketing agenda. Perhaps it is for this reason that it will achieve more resonance with audiences.

Podcast audience in the UK

Rajar's latest report shows that around 4.7 million adults in the UK download and listen to podcasts - roughly 9% of the population. Although these are small numbers, it's an increase on the figures from 2015 (around 6.5%). 

Helen (Zaltman, of Answer Me This) believes it’s an exciting time to be involved in podcasting:

“It’s a really great medium, it’s so democratic. It’s very cheap to make, so much cheaper than radio and TV. There’s no one between you and the audience — there are no filters. (Source:

So although the uptake still not be of the same scale as TV or radio, the impact is certainly great. The fact that they are still (albeit slowly) rising in popularity proves they aren't dead. I think we should watch this space - recent chats I have had with people around my age have revealed a fair few more podcast fans than I expected. If they really are a niche pursuit for professionals in their 20s or 30s, maybe this could be the key to their success?

After all, wasn't it this same generation of millennials which drove the YouTube and Netflix boom, eventually culminating in mainstream popularity? 
It might be a slow-burn, but I think word of mouth and recommendations from friends (as was the case in the early days of blogging and vlogging) could result in a rise in the podcasting culture.

Popular content in 2017

My favourite podcasts

Stuff You Should Know - Extremely likable Josh and Chuck discuss every subject under the sun, from the history of the Trail of Tears to empathy, from bonsai to foreign accent syndrome. Great if you love learning random facts and very entertaining.


Guys We F***ed - Hear from Corinne and Krystyna as they chat through all issues of feminism and femininity. Dubbed 'the anti slut shaming podcast', they often have guests, take questions from listeners and offer advice.

WTF with Marc Marron - Comedian Marc Marron interviews a host of well known personalities (alongside a hearty and welcome dose of his own). Feels much more like listening into a chat between friends than a formal interview.

If I Were You - Jake and Amir (of YouTube Collegehumor fame) answer listener dilemmas and offer very questionable advice. And try as hard as they can to stay on topic, with entertaining results.

Anna Farris is Unqualified - Actress and wife of movie star Chris Pratt chats to celebrities and asks them big questions - about their dating deal breakers, for example. An enviable selection of guests including Sharon Stone and Eric Stonestreet of late.

I'm interested to find out from as many people as I can: do you or have you ever downloaded a podcast? If so, how often? What is it about them that appeals to you? Please let me know in the comments!

Read more »

Monday, 27 March 2017

Unicorn Cupcakes! Baking for Red Nose Day

These unicorn cupcakes were so easy and so much fun to make. We were having a 'bake-off' event in our office and I was determined to put in some effort and come up with something decent! I'm not the best baker in the world but I decided that fairy cakes would be do-able. And why not fairy tale theme them? Unicorns are still very much in vogue at the moment so I decided to go for it. Here are the finished results...

Read more »

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Wine Tasting and Italian Carnevale

If you've read my previous blog on my weekend trip to Rome, you'll know I had an excellent first few days in the Eternal City thanks to The Roman Guy.

What made the weekend for me, though, was our Sunday day trip to the town of Frascati, just twenty minutes outside Rome. This charming little place played host to us for the day as we took part in The Old Frascati Wine Tour, followed by an afternoon of Italian Carnevale fun!

We were greeted at Frascati train station by our wonderful guide Dominique, who took us on a tour of the town. We visited the local bakery where Nonna Rosanna is still baking at 90 years old! She told us she owes her vitality to the air in the hills, a good Roman diet (and a cigarette every day!) Here, we sampled melt-in-the mouth porchetta (slow roasted pork) in freshly baked bread. We washed it down with a glass of local wine - it was to be the first of many! Dominique assured us that 'breakfast wine' was totally a thing here. The 'jug wine' we tried at a local shop was 14% and very rustic!  
Next, we were taken by car to the beautiful vineyard, one of the oldest family run wineries in Frascati - set in a sunken valley which is gets the perfect amount of sunlight and moisture from the morning mist in the hills. We were shown around and learned about the wine making process - even getting a chance to visit the deep wine cave which dates back to Ancient Rome.

Soon, it was time to sample some of these wares! We headed upstairs in the 14th century farmhouse where we tried each of the wines: red and white, accompanied by fresh bread and olive oil. Interestingly, I enjoyed the taste of the red wine which had been chilled! It was a new experience for me but I could definitely imagine sipping it on a balmy Summer's evening.

We finished our vineyard tour outside, soaking up the afternoon sunshine and sampling the sweet dessert wine, which was served with cookies. Then, we returned back into the centre of Frascati for a glorious lunch of pasta, olives, bread and meats. All washed down with the delicious wine! 

Fully fed, we ventured to the town square where we were delighted to find the Carnevale in full swing! 

Frascati has definitely stolen my heart and I can't wait to return one day. It's amazing that such a tranquil place exists so close to the hustle of Rome! The Old Frascati Wine Tour is a must-do if you're visiting - an authentic Italian experience which I'm still dreaming about even now... 
Read more »

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Helen the Hero: A tribute for International Women's Day

I could write screeds and screeds about the people who made me. My parents' influence on me has been great, of course - but since it's International Women's Day I thought I would write about my favourite feminist and one of the most inspirational people I know: My Gran. Helen Warren - born on the 14th April 1921, making her 96 years old. Here are just five reasons why she continues to inspire me:

1. Her bravery

She grew up in Edinburgh, the eldest of three sisters, in a tenement flat. Her father was a craftsman and very artistic - I wish I could have met the man who painted the bathroom walls with the Seven Disney Dwarves! She remembers it well and talks about how she and her sisters would watch from the window at all the people spilling and dancing out into the street after the pubs closed - the sound of music always filled the air, she said.

Music was a huge part of my Gran's life - she was crazy about jazz, and although she never learned to play any musical instruments, she loved to sing. Her father played the accordion and she remembers how they would often sing together as a family, and she would watch in admiration as he played. 

At just 18, she was living away from home and working in a munitions factory in London. Part of her job was to climb to the roof and signal the air raid alarm. When I ask her about this, and if she ever felt scared - she says no, it was just something I had to do. She has told me she never felt scared when the War was on and I can tell by her demeanor even now that this is true; she still brews with that same old fighting spirit and exclaims that "We just wanted to beat those damn Nazis!"

2.  She never settled for second best

During the air raids, the workers would shelter in the basement where my Papa, Albert, played piano and my Gran would sing. Their mutual love of music was obviously a big attraction for both of them, and it wasn't long before Albert had asked her to marry him. She agreed, but on one condition: that they move to Scotland. 

Even though my Gran was a wife and a mother, she was never submissive in that traditional sense. She made sure that her life would continue as normal. She was Helen, the creative, the career focused, the politically active. She raised my mother and uncle in the best possible way - she showed them love and support, encouraging them (and maybe on some occasions pushing them!) but she also demonstrated through her own life that you should never let one thing define you.

3. Her passion for the causes she believed in

From a young age, I remember my Gran bringing me along to endless marches and demonstrations. I was even pictured in the paper once, aged one, as we petitioned against the closure of the local maternity hospital! A Feminist, a Nationalist and a Trade Unionist - Helen has always been a big supporter of worker's rights - something else she inherited from her Dad. In her early life she was a young Communist and her first boyfriend fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. 

A representative for the Trade Union her whole working life and even after she retired, she was always heading to Glasgow for meetings. She loved to hear her favourite politicians talk - Tony Benn and Donald Dewar, among others. She could talk passionately herself for hours about the causes she felt so strongly about. In today's political landscape, things are very different but the message she instilled in me remains the same: she believed that every one of us has the power to change the world and our voices should always be heard.

4. She taught me that it's never too late to learn something new

Unfortunately, my Gran grew up in a time when there were very few opportunities for young women. The war meant that she had to quit her job in a pharmacy in Edinburgh, and move to London to help with the effort. She worked for the Civil Service before the munitions factory, and on her return to Scotland she worked at the tax center. Had she had her wish, my Gran would have gone to university. I can only imagine how different her life and career might have been if she was able to study politics, sociology, languages and the arts! She always told me never to take my education for granted.

When my Gran was in her fifties, she decided to sit her driving test for the first time. She passed, but never drove. She just wanted to prove she could do it! She attended night classes in French and an art class where she produced hundreds of paintings. They used to fill the walls of her house, and now several of them hang in my flat.

She watched documentaries and she read extensively - newspapers and books. She would keep clippings for me and save me educational supplements. Some of my first memories of writing, reading and drawing are sitting at the kitchen table with my Gran. She always made me feel like I could achieve anything with these tools at my disposal. 

5. Her achievements

When I think about my Gran's legacy, it amazes me (and makes me feel a bit lazy, frankly!) I always knew she had achieved a lot but it wasn't until she moved into the home and we sold the house that it became so apparent to me. Going through a lifetime of possessions, we were constantly reminded of all she had done, and all the lives she touched.

Even now at 96 she continues to impress me - her nurses tell us that she often sings to cheer up the other residents and she even helps them to make the tea sometimes! I don't think she will ever stop working or caring for others. She makes me understand the importance of living - truly living - that means having a purpose and a cause, something to live every day for!

Every time I see her she tells me to enjoy myself while I'm still young and do everything now while I still can. 

When I think about the struggles we face as women in today's society, I feel empowered by what my Gran has taught me. When I was a little girl and watching The Sound of Music in her kitchen, singing the lines from Sixteen Going on Seventeen, she told me - don't let ANYONE tell you what to do - and don't EVER depend on a man! I was seven, and those words stuck with me. Happy International Women's Day Helen - here's to you. As she would say, raising her glass (whisky and ginger ale is her tipple of choice): "Confusion to the enemy!"

Read more »

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Weekends in Rome with The Roman Guy

Italy is one of my favourite places to visit and in the past few years I've fallen even more in love with it. February seemed like the perfect time for an Italian pick me up to blast away those Winter Blues, so my friend and I decided to book a long weekend trip to Rome.

This would be my third visit to the Eternal City - read about what I learned on my first trip here. I was excited to return and for what I would discover this time around.

Arriving in Rome is a sensory experience - the sound of Vespa motors fills the air, leaden with History and memories of grandeur. The Italian passion and style exudes from every crevice- you can see it with every couple in the street; the well-dressed elderly man; the pizza maker busy at work in the window and the avenues and streets of expensive boutiques. Designer stores sit right next to tiny little cafes, launderettes, bars and quirky leather goods shops.

There is so much to take in and people watching is part of the charm of this city. On our first day, we arrived at our Air BnB - Ivan Camillo's The White Inn, located in the San Giovanni area. Ivan and his wife greeted us and could not have been more helpful, suggesting lots of local places for us to check out. The apartment itself was beautiful and had everything we could need - even a little outdoor terrace which is unheard of in Rome!

We were starving so headed out to grab some lunch - authentic local pasta and a trattoria just down the street. We knew it was legit since there was no menu - only a specials board in Italian! Fully fed and watered we headed for a wander round town, past the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia and Via Del Corso.

We finished our evening with some aperitivo in a little bar just off Piazza Venezia - the staff were really friendly and even offered us another glass of prosecco on the house when we left!

On Saturday, we had an early rise for our tour of the Vatican Museums. We booked the Privileged Entry tour with The Roman Guy, which turned out to be an excellent decision! Our guide, Jovita, greeted us at a little cafe just outside the entrance. She gave us ample time to have our breakfast of espresso and cornetti, which gave us the energy we needed. 

Being one of the first groups to enter the Vatican meant we were able to wander the halls with no-one else around. Experiencing the Sistine Chapel in absolute silence (it is forbidden to converse inside) with only a handful of other people around is indescribably wonderful. 

Jovita was an excellent guide and made our tour even more special - not only was she incredibly knowledgeable and was able to explain everything to us well, answering every question - she filled the tour with stories and anecdotes to spark our interest and imagination. 

The three hours seemed to fly by and soon we were at our final destination - St. Peter's Basilica. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of the place - the biggest in the world. It's a breathtaking way to end a tour which I'll never forget.

After our culture-filled morning, we had a slightly lazier afternoon- the sun was shining so we sat outside lunching at Da Francesco - highly recommended by our local foodie Lorna. Afterwards we enjoyed an espresso at the famous Sant'Eustachio Caffe - the best coffee in Rome (I can testify this is true...) and later a gelato in the sunshine, overlooking the ruins at Torre Argentina (famously speculated as the site of Julius Caesar's murder - now a home for lots of stray cats!)

On Saturday evening, we headed to Trastevere to meet Lorna. She took us to the excellent Grazia & Graziella, where we sat outside and sipped on our Aperol Spritzes before enjoying a delicious dinner. Afterwards, we wandered around lively streets of Trastevere and headed for some cocktails at Pimm's Good, where we danced to the blues band that were playing.

Our first two days in Rome were busy but so much fun. Thank you to Lorna and The Roman Guy for everything. Check back for my next blog about our Sunday wine tour in Frascati!
Read more »

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Hina Matsuri!

Today was the 16th annual Hina Matsuri - a celebration of Japanese culture held in Glasgow's West End. Since I love everything about Japan (one day... one day I will get there! Even if I have to get a job with a fishing rod manufacturer in Wishaw...) I was keen to go along and learn more. There was traditional Taiko drumming...


Japanese Kanji...

And what better to follow a truly Japanese experience? Huevos Rancheros, of course! Big up to Vinyard 28 (soon to be new joint - The Parlour - watch this space) for the yummy brunch.

I also popped by one of my favourite shops in the West End, Wendy's Hoose, to stock up on the deliciously scented soy candles. Banana bried is the best!

On the Japanese theme, I have started reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Book review to follow! 

Happy Saturday, all.
Read more »